Ever wonder what it's like inside the mind of a madman? A psychopath on that very slim verge between sanity and insanity?
At the time I'm writing this review, it's nearly Christmas. Utterly ignorant drivers choke every highway and byway. Narrow-minded seasonal shoppers rudely shove me for ill-planned gifts. Congregated family members grin painful smiles through painful family moments while a cherished plane ticket burns a hole in my pocket. The inside of my head is beginning to look a lot like that of Geoffrey Oswald Dodd (Robert Nolan), the antihero of Richard Powell's short film Worm.
Worm isn't exactly an all-out horror film. More of a brief psychological thriller with the intent to horrify. The beauty of owning a site though: you get to decide what goes up and what doesn't qualify. I found Worm to be psychologically horrifying enough to merit a review on the GRRR, so here it is.
Worm offers a beautifully-edited glimpse into the mind of a normal working man, a high school teacher, who by all outward appearances is an organized, calm citizen leading what seems to be a very tranquil life. Almost immediately though, we hear the inner-dialogue of Dodd. As we follow Dodd through a typical day at work, the pitch of his disgust grows exponentially, spewing venom either aloud when alone or as a voice-over when in the presence of co-workers and students.
This seemingly mundane high school teacher is twisted with rage, loneliness, and abysmal thoughts towards every other human being in his life. While speaking casually to colleagues, Dodd is viciously cutting them apart in his mind. Plotting, planning his imminent break-down when he takes out everyone around him in the most disturbing and graphic manner.
In this man's loveless, lonely, and truly pathetic life, his one ray of sunshine is an under-aged female student Lillian (Samantha Nemeth). Of course, even this one positive aspect in Dodd's life is fathomlessly disturbing. An undelivered letter in Dodd's briefcase, adorned with girlish hearts and frilly inks, proposes that the two run away together, this man in his mid-50s and this girl who is at best 16.
It's beautiful to see how Nolan handles the character. Eerie really. It makes one question what the person next to you in the checkout line is thinking, or what atrocities that seemingly pleasant person at the post office might be moments away from committing. Even scarier is running into Producer Zach Green and Robert Nolan in person at the 2010 Horror Society Film Festival and finding Nolan to be disturbingly similar to his character in Worm; that is to say his friendly quirkiness had me second-guessing his every comment and intention. But a friendly fellow and excessive fun to watch on screen.
The highlight of the short was a diatribe Dodd delivers against his students while calmly sitting at his desk in front of the class. As Dodd's rage ramps up, he's interrupted by a question from a student. And the question is actually an intelligent one and for a moment, I thought it would diffuse Dodd's anger, but in a tribute to his madness, Dodd plunges right back into his tirade with some terrific quotable social comments. Keep an ear out for them.
My only criticism of Worm is also my highest praise. Worm has a succinct runtime of twenty minutes. And it's a beautiful twenty minutes during which we see Dodd spew his unhappy venom at everyone, even the young object of his affection.
What we don't see though is any ultimate SNAP! What a gnawing dichotomy this creates for the viewer. We're conditioned to some horrific pay-off, especially in the horror genre. We expect to see Dodd bury an axe in his co-worker's skull, or let six rounds loose into the back of a classroom of screaming bloody children, or toss a limp trashbag full of adolescent flesh into his trunk.
But we get none of this. The film ends as eerily and quietly as it begins. A bloody insane payoff is clearly not the point, so don't be disappointed. The beauty is in the build-up and the fact that Powell is able to make you feel so much anxiety. I almost felt an empathy at times with Dodd. I was impressed to feel and enjoy so much in such a short film.
A director should know his or her limits. Creating a beautiful short film within means and abilities is so much more satisfying for all involved rather than the excruciation of a sprawling full-length mess with good intentions but lackluster execution. Powell's created a tremendously emotive piece exactly as long as it needs to be, every moment impeccably acted, gorgeously shot, and with crystal clear audio.
If you can find this little gem screening somewhere, don't miss it.