All Jacked Up and Full of Worms, written and directed by Alex Phillips, opens in the midst of our protagonist, Roscoe (Phillip Andre Botello), having an unidentified drug trip. A pretty woman, Samantha (Betsey Brown), stoned and spiritual — maybe his girlfriend, maybe just a partner of some kind, definitely at least a roommate — is guiding him through a moment where Roscoe claims he feels his whole childhood die. He’s unhappy, whimpering, pushing something psychically wounded out of himself, but he feels almost relieved once it passes. Samantha soothes him by saying that he’s just made up of organs, organs that have no sense of self, past or future — it’s the first of a handful of high concept, drugged out sort of ideas that the film doles out gradually, meaningless, one supposes, unless you’re as high as those onscreen.
Roscoe’s opening high is a bad trip that ends up being sort of good, a concise summary of All Jacked Up and Full of Worms whole bit. A collection of degenerates — clown kings and sex workers and drug addicts — portrayed with a sort of stilted dialogue, a constant distance from intimacy or naturalness (even when they’re touching, fucking, killing). At moments, performances simmer at something close to camp, though often ends up feeling too sad and dark to actually reach that spot.
What works best are the aesthetic choices that go all in: a cult leader droning on television, a red love motel with a plasticy bath and a mirrored ceiling, a horrific body horror end sequence of unspooled intestines and vivid bile. It’s a filthy film in a very literal sense, focused on the visceral — in fact, the word that comes to mind more than anything is “guts.” People puke (blow chunks, gag up a frothy overdose spittle, spit up blood and water, then bathe in it as they try and clean up), their insides come out (dragged out or dropping from their stomach, bleeding out slowly into a bucket during some inexplicable fetish scene), characters fixate on the idea of having babies, imagining full tummies and forcing 2% milk into baby doll’s mouths.
All Jacked Up and Full of Worms wants, more than anything, to feel fucked up — and at this, it succeeds. Key features in our storyline are worms that one can snort, consume, shove into their veins to get a hallucinogenic high, a baby doll redesigned for an extremely disturbing sexual fetish, a droning television in the background of disturbing, worm-related, cult-related ravings. It’s uncanny at moments — the very center of the film is the highly sought-after high of worms, characters see themselves on the television as a guide explains the sensation of seeing oneself on television, time and space are interlocked impossibly so that the same event looks different when we somehow return to it later in the film, faces in mirrors are smeared blobs, not just lines, but whole monologues, are often repeated over and over by the same character to different people.
It’s not necessarily a film entrenched in structure, but instead a feeling. All Jacked Up and Full of Worms seems invested, more than anything, in being a trip in and of itself, hard to critique in traditional formats, more of a pulsing, gross-out, even startling vibe. But what I believe it’s trying to do — mainly, bring something freaky and filthy to the forefront — is a valiant attempt, and to be appreciated as such.