Fantastic Fest 2019 Review: 'Wyrm'
Wyrm is an outstanding first time feature for writer and director Christopher Winterbauer. It would be an impressive project for anyone, but especially noteworthy because this is Winterbauer’s debut. Taking place in a 90s something reality, Wyrm (Theo Taplitz) is a teenager on the verge of entering the ninth grade. Wyrm exists in a world where kids who have yet to have their first kiss (aka their level 1 sexuality requirement), wear these clunky collars that have a red blinking light on them and only turn green and release once that first kiss is achieved. Wyrm is the only kid in his class who is still wearing his collar. Everyone else has upgraded to the wrist/bracelet version, which can only come off after actual sex.
Wyrm’s family is coping with the recent loss of his older, more athletic, and much more popular brother Dylan. His twin sister Myrcella (Azure Brandi) spends her free time mailing letters and floppy disks around town containing delicate information regarding massively embarrassing albeit true incidents about every student in class. His dad is either always at work or always in the bathroom, his mother is off traveling some 1,000+ mile trek away from her family, and his uncle paints awkward portraits as a hobby while being involved with someone who doesn’t speak English and borrows his car all day every day. Wyrm has no friends, no love life, and is looked at as this awkward outcast by everyone in class. All he wants is a girlfriend and for his life to be less awkward.
There’s a very obvious Napoleon Dynamite influence to Wyrm that is best to get out of the way and move past early on. Wyrm has much more to offer than just an homage to some lukewarm comedy that came out 15 years ago. The film is overwhelmingly relatable if you’ve ever had any sort of issues with finding a relationship in your teens, making friends, or being close to your family despite consistent change. Speaking as someone who had the worst dating life imaginable up until he met the woman he would eventually marry, Wyrm says so much about never being normal or fitting in despite your best efforts.
Apart from its awkwardness, Wyrm builds this world that is skewed and exaggerated purely for humorous purposes compared to what actually transpired in the 90s. The internet explodes into this thing every household is addicted to, but Wyrm portrays the internet as this glowing monitor that is nothing more than a bright colored light that everyone worships. Adults mash keyboards to portray typing or working on the computer, Wyrm’s family has nachos for dinner every night, and getting your collar popped is the first step to becoming a man or a woman.
Wyrm allows its audience to experience and feel a spectrum of emotions throughout its duration. It’s a comedy on the surface and makes you laugh heartily through its first half, but it’s also a drama establishing characters and exploring what makes them sad and what holds them back as people. The second half of the film breaks your heart and then puts it back together again. It’s extraordinary that this is also the debut film for Theo Taplitz and Azure Brandi. They have this palpable chemistry that comes off as if they’re realistically brother and sister; getting on each other’s nerves, knowing what gets under the other’s skin, and sometimes being best friends with one another.
If you have ever had trouble making friends, feel socially awkward in the slightest, or have a terrible love life, then Wyrm is going to be something that speaks to you, laughs with you, cries with you, and celebrates your triumphs with you. Puberty is awkward and ugly for everyone, but Wyrm portrays what it’s like to not be able to adjust even after you accomplish what everyone else has. Kids are cruel, being a freshman sucks, and a tragedy often leaves imprints in our lives we don’t feel or notice until long after they’ve ended. Wyrm is this cinematic time capsule that depicts how it feels to be different, how it feels during one of the worst times in our lives, and how we try to move past the events that affect us the most.
© 2019 Chris Sawin