Movie Review: 2001 CUFF: Wormwood
Wormwood, a scathing attack on the state of modern Hollywood, was the first fictional film I saw at the fest and was sort of a cross between Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz and John Waters‘ Desperate Living.
It’s also the first feature directed by 47-year-old Larry Foster, who, before becoming a film professor, worked in “the biz” as a producers’ assistant and various bottom-feeding studio jobs. Though Wormwood is a gross-out fictional spectacle, it’s based on real-life experiences by Foster and his friends, enemies and ex-students.
A woman named Cristina gets a mysterious phone call from her sister that launches Cristina on a tour through Hollywood’s most evil movie studio, Wormwood Pictures, which regularly chews up people and shits them right out. Nobody leaves Wormwood with their soul intact.
Wormwood started out pretty good, opening with a parody of Citizen Kane, then moving quickly into some porno movie and Scientology jokes. But once the action got into high gear at the Wormwood studio, I had to start seriously questioning the film. My main issue was if someone is going to poke fun at how shallow and empty Hollywood and its products are, why make your own film so shallow and one-note?
There’s not one single scene in Wormwood, nor even a single line of dialogue, that isn’t a direct attack against Hollywood. There’s really no depth to the film and absolutely no character development. The main character, Cristina, is a complete blank and she pretty much sucks out the energy of every scene she’s in, which is almost all of them.
But as a low-budget digital video feature, Wormwood was shot very creatively. The camerawork is fairly bland, but the sets are artistically designed and characters distinctively costumed. Foster solved his budgetary problems by shooting almost exclusively in his own house and using painted backdrops for different studio offices. I’m also assuming there was a minimal use of green/blue screens to simulate the outdoors. There was always at least something interesting to look at and Wormwood felt like a very real place, “real” in a twisted, distorted kind of way.
I just don’t think Wormwood was well thought out. For example, there’s a scene in the film of something called “The Formula”: A mindless automaton, with buck teeth and a glassy stare, pukes shit out of his mouth and keeps watch over the formulas Hollywood uses for every different genre, such as action, comedy, drama, etc.
Yet, Wormwood‘s ending is so telegraphed 15-20 minutes into the movie, it’s as though Foster is using the same formula that he’s criticizing Hollywood for using. If you’re going to insult somebody, at least be more clever than the object of your scorn.