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Published by David Carter on 2014/12/7 (750 reads)
Directed by Doug Mallette
Review by David Carter
Released by Synapse Films
Running Time: 94 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Color format: Color
Audio/Subtitles: 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo English
Region Code: 1, NTSC
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
16:9 Enhanced: Yes
Special Features: Short film, deleted scenes, commentary
Trailer Online: Yes
Short Version: Indie sci-fi flick
Dreams occur in the majority of living things on Earth, from people to dogs to even armadillos. For such a universal phenomenon, very little concrete data is known about dreams and dreaming. Each facet of the experience is somewhat controversial, such as where dreams come from in the brain, what they represent, and the ultimate purpose for their occurrence. It is understood that dreams must serve some purpose with regard to our mental and physical health, as negative side effects have been observed from both over-dreaming and under-dreaming.
The latter is the premise of Doug Mallette’s first feature film WORM, now available from Synapse Films. WORM takes place in a world where dreaming ceased to exist thirty years ago. The inexplicable loss of dreams hasn’t had any substantial negative effects on society; however, it has turned life into a bland, excitement-free existence for most of the population. That is especially true for Charles, an apartment superintendant who is longing for anything to break the monotony of his boring life. He gets that in the form of June, a beautiful neighbor who is – pun intended – Charles’ dream girl. Unfortunately she’s dating the handsome and wealthy Reed, Charles’ opposite in every way.
Charles manages to find one way to level the playing field between Reed and himself: he begins using “Fantasites,” a new designer drug that allows the user to dream via a worm inserted in the ear canal. Fantasites come at a hefty price, but Charles finds the sacrifice is worth it as it helps him become friends with Reed and, by extension, June. They are a happy, if awkward, trio for a while but trouble soon comes in the form of a government ban on Fantasites. Now addicted to dreaming, the relationship between the three is strained to the breaking point as thing that united them now drives them apart.
WORM is a good example of the “soft” sci-fi genre that has fallen out of vogue in recent years. Soft sci-fi takes place in the normal world with a slight twist, so it has a firmer footing in reality that a film with superpowers or spaceships. The Fantasites themselves can be seen as a metaphor for any real drug or addictive behavior, and its effect on Charles’ life is more a perceived benefit than any real change. Fantasites allow him to dream the relationship he desires with June into existence, which helps him cope with the real world pain of seeing her with Reed. Most of WORM is a black comedy but it takes a truly darker shift after the ban on the drug. Much like being snapped out of a dream, Charles is “awakened” metaphorically to the reality of his relationship with June and is forced to come to terms with it.
WORM was reportedly improvised by the cast based on scene guidelines from director/writer Mallette. I found this surprising because the performances are very polished and it doesn’t appear that the actors are winging it, which is a credit to their talents and Mallette’s direction. Strip away the sci-fi trappings of WORM and you have a story about unrequited love for an unobtainable woman; a concept that is perhaps a little too familiar in independent cinema. Charles and June’s un-relationship takes up a good portion of the movie but is largely uninteresting save for the fact that Charles is a likable character. A differently balanced film that focuses more on the sci-fi aspects (the film’s strong suit) and less on a dysfunctional romance would ultimately be more interesting for audiences.
Synapse Films always does a good job of releasing a mix of classics and unknown newer films. WORM is definitely in that second group but they’ve crafted this DVD with the same high-standards as their more well-known titles. WORM began its life as an eight-minute short and that short is included as a bonus feature along with a filmmaker’s commentary track and deleted scenes. WORM is a well-made film with an interesting concept from first-timer Mallette. Definitely worth a look for fans of sci-fi and independent cinema, it makes me wonder what he’d be able to accomplish with a non-improvised film.
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