Breanna Lucci says Alex Phillips' feature-length directorial debut takes audiences on an elaborate, worm-filled, drug-fueled adventure.
Alex Phillips’ feature-length directorial debut, All Jacked Up and Full of Worms, tells a drug-fueled tale that feels like a worm-filled, gory rendition of The Big Lebowski (1998). Starring Philip Andre Botello, Trevor Dawkins, Betsey Brown, and Eva Fellows, the film reads like a 90s-era sitcom, with its plethora of strangely paired leather, denim, neon clothing, and deeply saturated colors. The arthouse horror story immediately draws us in, holding us captive as worms infiltrate the plot, characters, and themes.
When Roscoe (Botello) and Benny’s (Dawkins) paths cross, sparks fly—it’s more like psychedelic worms become both the pinnacle of existence and nightmare fuel. Between wild hallucinations, Benny’s desire to have a child, an ambitious sex worker, and some blood-thirsty worm addicts, the two are on a wild ride.
The film’s technical and physical special effects and props are perhaps its most notable feature, with its undoubtedly limited budget for every bit of gore as a self-defined underground film. Phillips and his team craft the story around it—while laughably fake, the special effects work beautifully in this infested fog. Through elementary greenscreen work that rivals my own personal Photoshop abilities (hint: they’re nonexistent), Phillips forces us to take this intoxicating trip alongside the characters. A giant cloth worm puppet, held up by sticks and unbodied hands, swirls from physical television screens into Benny and Roscoe’s minds. Paired with Benny’s “baby,” it’s an unnerving part of the worm experience for the characters and audience alike. It’s as if we’ve eaten worms ourselves because, in this reality, nothing makes sense, and everything is fair game.
Dawkins delivers an excellent performance deserving of recognition and celebration. He’s fascinating as the undeniably likable and puzzlingly strange Benny. We’re introduced to this when he signs for a package and tells the delivery person he will be a father. The delivery man congratulates him before Benny points to a box and exclaims, “My baby is in there.” It’s a strange encounter that begs countless questions and baffles us as Dawkins continues to wade through complicated emotions with ease. In one moment doting on and another resenting his strange “baby” before violently grieving its untimely death, Dawkins shoves us into Benny’s disturbed mind without much of a need for dialogue.
The cinematography, while at times confusing, does much of the heavy lifting that propels the film into such an enjoyable screening experience. The camera shifts from focused, centered shots of characters to disjointed, unconnected sequences that thrust us into psychedelics. Time is only as accurate as the worms allow, and the film seamlessly swings between past, present, and future. With assortments of vomiting, laughing, crying, and everything in between, the camera work and editing create terrifyingly alluring worms that rival the appeal of traditional drugs.
While the film isn’t particularly deep, it doesn’t need to be—it’s about eating worms. How deep can you dig into that? However, Phillips delivers an artful and eccentric thriller with solid performances, entertaining props, and visual delights.
All Jacked Up and Full of Worms screened at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival on August 11-22, 2022.