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Tapeworm

By Nick Rocco Scalia | January 25, 2020

And, finally, we have a couple of young-adult stoners (Stephanie Berrington and Sam Singer) who clear the very low bar of being the least outwardly unhappy people in the movie. Their relationship appears to lack much in the way of communication, chemistry, or ambition for the future. Still, at least it allows for moments of pot-fueled musings, a song or two (Singer is a musician, and his character will sometimes wail one of his tunes on-screen), and an occasional outdoor shag on an old mattress in the woods.

Each of these characters’ paths eventually begin to overlap and intersect in ways that suggest a kind of miserablist miniature Magnolia. Where that film’s interconnected tales of woe steadily escalated toward an operatic crescendo, however, there’s nothing remotely like that dramatic flourish on display in this one.

“The film’s humor (or anti-humor) largely arises from the remarkable consistency with which Velasco and Mitrovic… commit to its tone: low-key, deadpan, endlessly dejected.”

If all of this sounds like something of a slog, that’s sort of the point; the film’s humor (or anti-humor) largely arises from the remarkable consistency with which Velasco and Mitrovic – along with their cast of ordinary-looking local acting talent – commit to its tone: low-key, deadpan, endlessly dejected. Flatly lit and shot on 16mm film, Tapeworm sometimes recalls the look and feel of an earlier generation of outsider indie filmmaking, but unlike, say, the festival-favorite microbudget dramedies of the mid-90s, it doesn’t ever aim to be twee or quirky or cutesy. These characters and their (often limited, uncomfortable) interactions thus have a keen feeling of – well, maybe not realism, precisely, but audiences are highly likely to find at least a scene or two that recalls some shameful real-life experience they’d have probably rather forgotten about.

Again, it’s reasonable that not every viewer will want to wince and cringe their way through a movie the way Tapeworm all but demands they do. But, for all of the shame and discomfort that Velasco and Mitrovic so relentlessly put up on screen, some genuine humanity and empathy can also be found by anyone willing to take a closer look. In fact, there’s a moment just before the end credits roll – it’s just a single close-up shot, actually – that’s suffused with such unexpected beauty and grace, it forces you to re-contextualize the entire film that preceded it.

It’s as jarring, in its own way, as the gross-out in the opening scene – and, maybe, it suggests that the best way to view Tapeworm is not as provocation, but rather, as something like a passion play.

Tapeworm screened at the Slamdance 2020 Film Festival.

Tapeworm (2020)

Directed and Written: Milos Mitrovic, Fabian Velasco

Starring: Adam Brooks, Alex Ateah, Jennifer Mauws, Milos Mitrovic, Sam Singer, Stephanie Berrington, Julie Simpson, Dave Barber, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

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"…a Canadian film that seeks out catharsis in the most cringe-worthy of situations."

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