Ed. note– I go to horror to get away from real world horrors. But sometimes the two can’t help but cross. Writing this review a few days ago, less than 24 hours after the senseless killings in Connecticut, I felt it absolutely imperative to discuss WORM in that shade. It put the film in a whole new frame, and made it that much more terrifying.– P.F.
I was going to write my review of WORM two weeks ago. Had I written it then, it would have differed greatly in tone and content. The senseless massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut yesterday made me contemplate a number of things, and look at this most dark tale of a psychotic teacher in a whole new way. And in turn keyed me in to just how truly horrifying WORM is.
WORM is the story of a teacher who hates his life, himself and all the people around him. It opens with Geoff Dodd rolling into the parking lot, clearly already upset by his day. Under cover of a sheen of cold apathy, he goes through his day in a blistering rage and self-hate, lashing out at everyone in his path. But the victims of his hatred never know, because Geoff’s rants all take place in his head. And oh, are they nasty. He mentally berates one fellow teacher for discussing her parent’s bouts with cancer, and another for bothering him in the faculty lounge. In one creepy moment, he debates giving a love letter to one of his students, convinced he can persuade her to run away with him… and that if she becomes problematic, he can kill her. This seething brutality reaches the bottom of the abyss when he considers massacring his entire class.
And that’s where yesterday’s events come into the picture. 20 kids between the ages of 5 and 10 are dead at the hands of some 20 year old punk who was angry at his mother. I remember driving to school the morning that Columbine broke, listening to the news and having to discuss with my classes their fears, how I couldn’t explain why two kids would get dressed up and kill a bunch of their peers and teachers. And I still don’t understand what can’t be understood. Look, I taught for about a decade, stood in front of classes and saw things behind the scenes. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered someone as clearly insane as Geoff Dodd, but I’ve met plenty of morally and mentally out of whack teachers and students to say that I can easily picture real-life Dodds existing. Yesterday’s events, horrifyingly, prove just that.
But yesterday also takes away the power of one event in the film that students are more likely to come across on an every day basis. There’s a moment where Geoff is grading papers; given his low self-esteem, he’s angered by an overachieving student’s paper, and gives it a 5/10. As a teacher, I upheld the highest moral standards, even when grading, and didn’t let emotion cloud my judgment; doing so could damage my students’ psyches. The punch line for Dodd’s cruelty comes along, and this is the more mundane horror of one nasty little man’s actions. Creeps such as Dodd don’t belong in front of a classroom. It’s sad that every school will employ them.
WORM is a powerful short, as its follow-up FAMILIAR is. In both, writer/director Richard Powell leans heavily on the internal monologue, and actor Robert Nolan’s delivery for power. As he was in the latter, Nolan is brilliant here. Essentially he’s playing two very diverse roles, and does so with aplomb. When he goes off the nut, it’s something to hear. Powell’s script captures Dodd’s deranged inner workings to a tee. The only drawback I see is that Powell and Nolan use the same gimmick in WORM and FAMILIAR. I’d like to think Powell is capable of being more than a one-trick pony. I contend that he is, and I look forward to seeing him stretch his talents in new directions.
WORM was a powerful piece two days ago. After yesterday’s horrific events it resonates even more powerfully. I spent a decade trying to instruct kids and get them to look for answers. For people such as Geoff Dodd, I’ll never have any answers myself.