Sunday 13 March 2011

Worm (2010)

Director: Richard Powell
Star: Robert Nolan

'It's a lovely day,' says Geoffrey Dodd. 'The sun is shining, the birds are singing and the fish are swimming.' What he says doesn't tell the real story of Worm though, because the story is in what he thinks. We hear a lot of his thoughts and they're hardly the breezy cheerfulness his words suggest, not what you might expect from an apparently contented high school teacher, at least not to begin with. He's frustrated, stuck with idiots who don't want to learn from him, the curse of high school teachers everywhere. I can guarantee that anyone who knows a teacher, let alone has a family history in the profession, will be sympathising with him quickly. It may look easy but it's a tough job at the best of times, and the best of times aren't what most dedicated teachers tend to end up with. In this film, the frustrations go far beyond the kids, demonstrating that Dodd is an apple that the worm of the title is eating away at, and there's really not a lot of him left.
Worm treats us to a blistering glimpse into Dodd's psyche, a powerfully written one that ends up as the epitome of the newspaper headline that protests, 'But nobody suspected a thing.' It's an explanation for the bloody sequel that hasn't been and shouldn't ever be made, as it would only lessen this picture. As Dodd's frustration builds, we wonder where writer/director Richard Powell is going to take us, his superb script taking on a lot more than mild frustration to skirt a number of dangerous edges. When the twenty minute running time is up, we know plenty about Geoffrey Dodd and we despair at what's going to come next, but nobody else notices a thing. We've been let in on a powerful secret and we can't help but wonder how many of those secrets are around us. If Powell made a film of our life, would there be a Geoffrey Dodd character? Who would it be? How could we tell? This is the endgame that all horror films should reach and few even attempt.

While Powell's writing is dominant and his increasingly claustrophobic direction superbly done, the difficult task of peeling away layers to expose the character of Geoffrey Dodd goes to Robert Nolan, who I've never seen before but who has racked up a succession of tough roles in a wide variety of genres. According to his IMDb bio, his goal is to continually stretch himself as an actor, a routine thing for thespians to blurt but one that rarely seems to actually be lived up to. If we can judge from one performance alone, it would seem to be the case here, as Nolan appears to sculpt this character out of his sweat. No wonder he's already played Adolf Hitler three times. I can't fault any other member of the cast but they're swept away by the sheer force of Nolan's performance. He and the monologues Powell gives him utterly dominate proceedings. Worm is akin to being dragged through a scintillating cesspool and that's a sincere compliment.

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