Fantasia 2022: All Jacked Up and Full of Worms Wriggles Inconsistently

Image courtesy of Fantasia Film Festival

It’s been a wild twenty-four hours. I don’t know how many films are going to fill the “bugs as drugs” category at this year’s Fantasia Festival (see: Swallowed), but All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is as straightforward a title as you’re going to get when it comes to letting you know what you’re about to see. In contrast to its upfront name, however, the film is entirely surreal, absurd, and non-linear, narratively speaking. Its imagery is almost a mashup of Requiem for a Dream, Repo Man, and Videodrome if they had a disturbing, nightmarish, and nonsensical baby.  

Getting high with his girlfriend (Betsey Brown) and their roommate (Noah Lepawsky), Roscoe (Phillip Andre Botello) is on the lookout for a next-level high. One seemingly falls into his lap when Benny (Trevor Dawkins) returns to a motel room after an hour with sex worker Henrietta (Eva Fellows). Henrietta may be gone, but Roscoe finds her stash of hallucinogenic worms, and, together, the two find their lives intersecting on a fever dream fueled by sex and violence.  

Allegorically speaking, the worms, which look like everyday bait shop earthworms, can be a stand-in for anything. As a non-cohesive experience, the film extends itself to the altered and incongruous state of being messed up most of the time. If you’re looking for psychedelic Cheech and Chong, this is probably not going to satiate the buddy comedy vibe or mostly coherent nature of commercial drug films. All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is a more dreamlike film where locations change, new characters appear, and situations change with little transitional memory sticking the scenes together.

Roscoe leans his head through a narrow door opening in All Jacked Up and Full of Worms

This film was bonkers, but not in a good way. My entire frontal lobe needs a tune-up from the contact high watching All Jacked Up and Full of Worms gave me. I could tell you the film is about desire and impulses, trying to live a life beyond the pull of addiction, or perhaps it’s simply the hellscape of a life-threatening high, but I honestly have no idea. The film just feels weird for the sake of being weird, offering style over substance, and while that would typically be a film that fits in my wheelhouse, it was so unsatisfying.

Clearly, a low-budget indie, All Jacked Up and Full of Worms has some great things going for it. The weirdness is turned up to 11, the acting is terrific, and it has some gnarly practical effects. But the film takes on an almost experimental and disconnected form that I found hard to follow almost immediately. 

The opening suggests an old man being interviewed on a talk show is a future version of Roscoe, and maybe in some cosmic parallel metaphor, it is. The film then creates a transgressive approach with Roscoe watching the program while experiencing his bad trip. Then, switching between characters, All Jacked Up and Full of Worms shifts to Benny before Roscoe has really been established. The film’s exposition suffers, and as a result of the quick back and forth, I was caught in a whirlwind of trying to keep track of characters, most of which did not require it.  

There was something so wholesome about Benny at the start of the film. You couldn’t help but like him when he answered the door in his bathrobe, excited to welcome a bundle of joy into his home. Having ordered a toy baby to practice being a good father, we watch him die inside as he discovers he’s ordered an extremely upsetting and utterly inappropriate sex toy by accident. Determined, he continues to care for it. I have to admit that I laughed at the initial grotesque idea of the truly offensive and off-putting toy, especially as Benny tries to love the object despite his overt sexual desires. However, as his story continues, his character becomes disquieting and even appalling, and you’re likely to guess why. 

Benny and Roscoe put worms in their mouths at the beach in All JAcked Up and Full of Worms

Benny also utters a phrase quite regularly throughout All Jacked Up and Full of Worms about how he “never used to “f*ck with queers,” leading you to initially believe that he has bisexual tendencies the first couple of times he says it. In a specific scene later in the film where Roscoe and Benny watch TV with newfound friend Dennis (Sammy Arechar) in his motel room, the audience hears a little more of Benny’s shpiel. The quote follows the television saying, “Nothing is real, and everything is permitted.” With the sexual actions Benny has already taken against the sex toy he’s treating like his baby, it’s disturbing to hear Benny extend this line.

The movie crashed here for me. Whether we’re supposed to mistake Benny for a sweet guy with mental issues at the start and later see him in a light worthy of the hellish nightmare that’s just around the corner, or I’ve completely misunderstood this scene, I honestly couldn’t say. All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is such a convoluted acid trip that it’s beyond making heads or tails of unless you want to explore the film multiple times, which I wouldn’t condone. All I know is that Benny continually made things extremely uncomfortable, but not in any way that grants that word any enjoyability in a horror context. The wriggly, squirmy drugs may provide slight audience cringes but are otherwise benignly used overall. When you’re dealing with a film as bizarre and warped as this one, the experience underwhelms, leaving me to withdraw from it.

The creativity in the practical effects of Alex Phillips’ film is definitely worth mentioning, and it’s what makes the otherwise dizzying film worth watching. The Worm King (voiced by Phillips), a giant puppet creature that supportively pushes the characters to realize their full potential, is the kind of strangeness I think audiences will show up for. Still, most are going to grow tired of trying to put the film together. All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is a puzzle without edges, and while I can appreciate aspects of what Phillips is offering, the film remains unfocused.  

Phillips has said his film suffered a huge blow and multiple rewrites occurred because the COVID shutdown killed his shoot back in 2020. To that end, I’m hugely sympathetic. The film is ambitious, and it sucks that it couldn’t be fully realized how Phillips originally conceived it. Some people may love this for its weirdness and the mind-altering dream logic some scenes invoke, but Phillips’ film just wasn’t for me. 

All Jacked Up and Full of Worms played as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival on July 16, and Cinedigm has obtained the rights for the film, which will screen exclusively on Screambox later this year.  

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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