We like to believe that there's something better.
That's what we've been told.
But what if there isn't? What if there isn't something better? What if this is all there is? What if what this is just plain sucks?
If you were to breed the cinematic experiences of Todd Solondz with Steven Soderbergh's admirable failure Bubble, then you might begin to have a clue of what to expect from the debut feature of Canadian filmmakers Milos Mitrovic and Fabian Velasco. You could possibly even toss in the glossier absurdity of Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe's 2019 festival darling Greener Grass, an equally absurd but far sunnier experience with an underlying equally dark cynicism.
Tapeworm is really a beast all its own, a darkly humorous journey through the kind of darkness that chokes the life out of you then chokes you a little more just for good measure. Utilizing a cast of non-professional locals, Mitrovic and Velasco have crafted a not so delicate film about delicate people who deserve better than they've gotten in life but will most likely never actually get better. These people are lovable losers, and you will love them in some strange way. You'll also be glad you're not one of them, well, unless you are one of them. If you are one of them, you'll probably just sort of sit there during the closing credits wiping away the tears or calling the therapist you already have on speed dial.
The leads remain nameless throughout the film, an appropriately sad decision for undeniably sad people. There's a hypochondriac (Adam Brooks). There's a loner (Milos Mitrovic). There's a stoner couple (Sam Singer and Stephanie Berrington). There's a failed comedian (real-life comedian Alex Ateah).
They deserved their own sentences. That's about all they've got.
There are supporting characters. These are people who mostly enable the misery of our key players, though occasionally they reach out with not so much an olive branch but maybe an olive twig.
The opening scene in Tapeworm is laugh out loud funny. Then, I cried.
The closing scene in Tapeworm made me cry. Then, I suddenly laughed out loud.
Depression is kind of that way. Ya' know?
Tapeworm isn't a perfect film or a flawless film, but I can't help but think it's a some kind of wonderful film. It's the kind of film you expect to see at Slamdance Film Festival, a gem of a film fest that celebrates emerging filmmakers and low-budget cinema. Cinematic oddballs are embraced at Slamdance and that makes it the perfect fest to host the U.S. premiere of Tapeworm later this month in Park City, Utah.
Adam Brooks is compelling as the film's hypochondriac, simultaneously eliciting laughs and our sympathy while painting a wonderful portrait of a man whose entire being seems to be eaten away by the emotional chaos inside him. Similarly, Alex Ateah is remarkable as a bad comic whose comedy masks her own inner turmoil. Ateah's performance was so compelling that only moments after watching the film, I found myself on Youtube checking out her "real" comedy.
Oh my. Ateah is truly gifted and adds a tremendous amount of humor and heart here.
The rest of the ensemble cast is equally strong. Mitrovic and Velasco manage to avoid the Soderbergh plague of casting non-actors who actually couldn't act.
Or, I suppose, Mitrovic and Velasco could have just really cast miserable people.
I dunno. Either way, it works.
Set and filmed in Winnipeg, a Canadian city not exactly known for its picturesque qualities when compared to other better known Canadian cities (Sorry, Winnipeg!), Tapeworm captures the personality of the area in a way that manages to feel both warm and uncomfortable. Markus Henkel's lensing avoids faux intimacy and instead captures the sort of detached reality in which all of our characters live. There's no magic pill here that changes their lives, a dose of reality that's refreshing from Mitrovic and Velasco that is captured beautifully by Henkel's lens.
Screening in competition in the narrative feature category at Slamdance, Tapeworm has screenings - Saturday, January 25th @ 7:15 pm in the Gallery and Tuesday, January 28th at 1 pm in the Ballroom.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic