All Jacked Up And Full Of Worms Review: Psychedelic Horror Delivers On Shock But Skimps On Storytelling

Film is arguably the most challenging art form of them all. Seeing something disturbing in, say, a painting is vastly different than seeing something disturbing in motion on film. The way that movies are able to get underneath the skins of viewers is what makes the art form so special, and director Alex Phillips seems to fully understand this if his genre festival darling "All Jacked Up and Full of Worms" is any indication.

Roscoe (Phillip Andre Botello) finds himself stalled in life. His relationship with his girlfriend Samantha (Betsey Brown) has ended because she's taking exotic drugs with a strange guy named Jared (Noah Lepawsky).  At the same time, perverted former bigot Benny (Trevor Dawkins) has his plans for fatherhood set back when he realizes the fake baby he ordered online is a sex doll. Their lives intertwine when they meet each other at the love hotel Roscoe works at, but when they encounter two murderous lovers (Carol Rhyu and Mike Lopez), Roscoe and Benny's glorious high turns into a bloody freakout.

With a plot like that, it's no wonder that "All Jacked Up and Full of Worms" won't be for everyone, even some hardcore horror fanatics. "All Jacked Up and Full of Worms" is clearly not meant to be an easily accessible crowd-pleaser, and it sometimes comes off as a bit try-hard in that regard. However, there is a certain charm, carried by its surreal visuals and the chemistry between Botello and Dawkins, that makes it an entertaining watch.

Searching for sanity in an insane world

Right off the bat, the film frames itself as a funhouse mirror of our own society. Everyone is horny, but they don't actually have sex. People are desperate to escape their bodies no matter the cost. A productive day's work consists of camping out in love hotels and taking whatever psychedelic is popular at the time. That is precisely why the film's cast of colorful characters act so weirdly – in the world presented to the audience, this type of out-of-body behavior is the norm, a result of the constant pursuit of enlightenment.

So, sure, that's the intent, but is it necessarily effective? It's hard to say. This theme isn't particularly divulged deeper beyond that, settling into a comfortable mantra of "we live in a society, don't we, folks?" It's a bit of a shame, as the film sets up these interesting ideas, only for them to get boiled down to a pretty simplistic message. It's as if Phillips couldn't decide on whether the film should an abstract art piece or surreal social commentary.

Perhaps the most prominent example of a potent symbol being misused is Benny's doll, which he wants to pretend is his child. The sheer existence of a sex doll modeled after a baby, complete with a gaping mouth, should say something about how disgusting the world can be. However, the film frames it as shock for shock's sake. While this type of framing isn't inherently wrong, it is a bit of a letdown.

Worms are life, worms are love

While the film as a whole can't seem to come together, that doesn't mean there aren't aspects of it that work. It just so happens that these elements are a bit bogged down by the film's overarching indecisiveness, particularly the performances between Botello and Dawkins. The film instantly lights up when they share the screen together, bouncing off of each other in an appropriately awkward and distant way. Dawkins, in particular, makes the despicable Benny someone you actually kind of feel sorry for, despite your better judgments.

What also makes the film work is that it is just downright gross. Each frame in the film looks like it smells and feels horrible, especially the dingy rooms we see in the love hotel. Watching these characters get high off of the titular worms, whether by eating or snorting them, is inherently uneasy because it is gross and unsanitary. In an increasingly sterilized mainstream market, any independent film that dares to embrace the disgusting is one worth celebrating, even if it does have its shortcomings.

"All Jacked Up and Full of Worms" is a movie that clearly doesn't care if it's enjoyed by the majority of viewers. While that is commendable to a certain degree, it shouldn't come at the cost of an undercooked and wasted narrative. Despite this, the film does manage to keep viewers invested, thanks to just how off the wall it gets. If this sounds like something you can handle, sit back and check it out on Screambox and VOD on November 8. I don't recommend trying what you see on screen, though.

/Film rating: 5.5 out of 10