Starring John Ferguson, Jes Mercer, Shane O’Brien
Directed by Doug Mallette
Distributed by Left Films
It’s the future, and humanity has lost the ability to dream. Like some deadbeat dad, it just upped and left us one day… but now there’s a solution: a product called Fantasites.
Marketed as a totally friendly parasite, Fantasites are worms which users place in their ears before bed, resulting in wondrous, engaging dreams of various levels of vividness – depending, of course, on whether you’ve dished out enough cash for the “premium” variety.
Getting by in this brave new world is socially awkward and anxious Charles (Ferguson), who works as a handyman in his father’s tenement. After striking up a conversation with his neighbour, Reed (O’Brien), Charles quickly becomes infatuated with Reed’s kindly girlfriend, June (Mercer).
Being a little bit weird as he is, Charles skirts around his inability to afford the premium Fantasites by covertly swapping his basic home deliveries with Reed’s higher grade ones – an issue that, over time, begins to cause obvious friction in Reed and June’s relationship.
When Charles discovers that Reed is, in fact, a cheating asshole, his attempts to ingratiate and enamour himself with June step up a notch – but before things in this neurotic love triangle can come to a head, something different happens…
Through TV interview snippets, we learn how the Fantasite worms operate – they consume small portions of the brain and then defecate within it, their faeces being the element that contributes to the hugely stimulating dream worlds they create. Later, they’re supposed to dissolve and be flushed away by the body.
Yes, folks. The worms shit in our brains, and we love it.
But there’s a problem… when it’s discovered that the worms are not dissolving as expected, and mid-term effects of use become publicly apparent – hallucinations, weak bladder and eventually brain damage and death – the super-popular product is pulled from the market… but leaves many a dedicated addict behind.
This is when Worm truly takes a turn for the interesting, as the post-Fantasite world surrounding our core duo quickly becomes ravaged by desperation and addiction – populated by people (June and Reed included) who are fully aware of the dangers posed by the parasites, but remain nonetheless hopelessly obsessed with (in a rather blunt metaphor) literally turning their brains to shit.
Worse still, Charles finds himself pulled into a ruthless gang alongside Reed – one whose members attack and kill people for their worms, smashing open heads and pulling the parasites straight from the host’s oozing gray matter for later reuse and resale on the black market.
But mild-mannered Charles can’t handle it, and as his horror at the situation grows ever stronger, he must figure out a way to abscond with June and escape from the clutches of not only Reed, but the pitiless gang he’s so hopelessly entangled in.
As a film, Worm is a game of two halves. The first closely mirrors the original award-winning short that inspired the feature, yet it’s also the weaker part. It’s hard to fully empathise with Charles’ weird behaviour, especially the gamut of needy, forced social interactions he manufactures in between his remorseless theft of Reed and June’s Fantasites.
The other two don’t fare particularly well either, with Reed being a predominantly archetypal douche bro. A few nicely placed character moments help alleviate this somewhat – see, for example, a scene which demonstrates that Charles’ “premium” dream experience is simply being in a lively, accepting social situation with his neighbours. It really speaks a lot to his character and personal issues, even if it doesn’t manage to make him likeable – and this is reflective of much of the character experience across the board, here.
When the second half takes a sharp dip into the horrors of drug addiction, physical deterioration and underground narcotics gangs, it works to the film’s strength and makes for a very uncomfortable time. Yet it struggles to stay entirely gripping due to a central trio that refuse to acknowledge their completely broken social dynamic – not so much in a wilfully ignorant manner (which would be fine), but more out of a complete lack of self awareness.
Still, while that may lessen the drama, it doesn’t particularly lessen the horror or grim vision of the film – both of which prove a solid hook once the nastiness is revealed. The cast, while less than exceptional and rarely feeling like they truly inhabit their characters, do deliver solid effort across the board – it would be disingenuous to tear them down, as they most certainly aren’t lacking in ability.
Visually, Worm takes a few adventurous and playful turns with the inclusion of some hilarious TV ads and entertaining dream sequences, but mostly relies on solid – if unimpressive – setups featuring plenty of transitional focus pulling. Mallette certainly has a cinematic eye, but makes few daring decisions throughout.
And that’s pretty much indicative of where Worm tends to sit: Middle-of-the-road, its positives neatly counterbalanced by the negatives. If it deserves kudos for anything, it’s for going down some very unexpectedly dark paths in the latter stages and for displaying drug-addled relationships with stark authenticity.
Definitely worth a watch, Worm is a solid swing at a Cronenbergian concept that doesn’t manage to take it all the way home, but deserves an appreciative nod for effort.
Left Films’ UK DVD release of Worm also sports the original short film (which actually goes a bit more over-the-top with its illustration of the “premium” Fantasites experience), 10 minutes of deleted scenes and an insightful commentary with director Doug Mallette, digital effects co-ordinator Julian Herrera and producers Jennifer Bonior and Jeremy Pearce.
- Worm original short film
- Deleted scenes
The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins
Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson
Directed by Peter Howitt
Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.
Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.
While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.
In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.
Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.
The Good Friend Book Review – A Slasher Story for the Facebook Generation
Written by Marcus Sabom
I’m not usually a big fan of murder mysteries, but Marcus Sabom’s novel The Good Friend has certainly done a lot to make me reconsider my stance on the genre. Sabom, who is currently turning the book into a film, appears to have a real gift when it comes to keeping the reader on the edge of their seat
Usually, if you were told that a book contains an ensemble cast of four central characters instead of one main protagonist, you’d probably lose interest right away because we tend to connect with singular point of view characters more than we do with ensembles. However, Sabom proved me wrong in this regard, because each of the four leading women in The Good Friend were such engaging people with such real problems that I never felt like there were too many characters and plot threads to keep track of.
To give a brief overview of our four principal players, we have Sarah, who wants to be in a meaningful relationship after her asshole boyfriend dumps her, Alana, a slightly older woman stuck in a loveless marriage with a manipulative husband who tries to turn her kids against her, Megan, who has to deal with crazy stalkers, and Rita, who is traumatized by a vengeful psycho named Caleb after he attempts to belittle and humiliate her.
With this being a book set in modern times, they naturally use social media to broadcast their problems to the world. Now, we all know about the dangers of chronicling every step of our lives on social media, but Sabom takes things to a whole other level. Because after the aforementioned women post about their troubles on Faceplace (which is basically Facebook, but with a name Mark Zuckerberg can’t take legal action against), a masked killer begins to permanently put an end to their man problems. Whoever the knife-wielding psycho is, he’s clearly a mutual friend of all the women, because he obviously looks at their posts.
One of the only male characters in The Good Friend who wasn’t a complete asshole was Detective Jack Miller, a cop investigating the case of the misandrous serial killer. Miller is described as occasional leaning towards antinatalism, the belief that people should stop reproducing because the human race should not continue to exist. I’ve also always believed that human beings should stop reproducing because we are beyond saving, so I’m glad that Sabom was able to tap into an area that deserves far more open discussion rather than being a social taboo.
The book itself is just under three-hundred pages in length and uses relatively large text, so most readers will probably get through the whole thing in about three days. Whilst the prose was certainly easy to digest, there were a number of errors and typos that would be painfully obstructive to most of us, the most obvious being that it confuses the phrase ‘couldn’t care less’ with ‘could care less’, which, as you know, means the exact opposite.
However, if you’re looking for a easy to digest murder mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend is certainly an ideal recommendation. At the very least, the book should teach you not to make negative posts about people on Facebook or other social media sties, because a knife-wielding killer might be looking at your status.
An easy to digest slasher story that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend serves as a perfect reminder of the darker side of social media.
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