At the outset, you might think Tapeworm is a hip adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, but that’s not nearly as exciting as opening on a close-up of a bloody turd which undoubtedly signals that instead what you’re about to get into is a heaping helping brand of mumblecore existential dread. If you weren’t sure about what you signed up for with Tapeworm, then hang on because the next few minutes of a man concerned with dying as he approaches a couple of potheads copulating on a bare mattress in the wilderness is when you really know this flick is all about getting those belly laughs that come with deadpan black comedy.
And that’s not all! Milos Mitrovic and Fabian Velasco’s 2019 flick shows us a snapshot of the lives of three other equally miserable people as they struggle with their vertical condition of being alive in dreary Winnipeg, Canada. Sorry, Winnipeg, this flick isn’t gonna do much for your tourism numbers.
Aside from Bloody Poop Man (Adam Brooks)—in the truest form of 90s mumblecore fashion, no one is given a name—and Mutual of Omaha’s Pothead Sexpots, we get the chance to ignore our own existential conundrums for bit and enjoy the vicarious experience of seeing it unfold for Video Game Man Child (Milos Mitrovic) and his mother (Jennifer Mauws), and a K-Mart Sarah Silverman (Alex Ateah) stand-up comedian as she struggles with what are actually kind of funny jokes to a crowd that makes a cemetery look like a better venue.
You won’t have to worry about any plot getting in the way of the story, or vice-versa, because this flick has neither! The only resemblance of a narrative is a series of very thin connections between these characters. Bloody Poop Man is paranoid about his marriage and his delicate condition as he occasionally bumps into Pothead Sexpots between their trips to Tim Horton’s, and Video Game Man Child’s mother, who buys him new clothes that he won’t wear, also takes care of K-Mart Sarah Silverman after she falls down a flight a stairs.
Mitrovic and Velasco hit the nail square on the head when it comes to finely-tuned hard-to-watch relatable realism, made only more intense and authentic by being shot on 16mm. In fact, there are a couple of moments that are probably frighteningly familiar, especially when Bloody Poop Man and his sobbing wife are trying to sleep as the neighbors blast metal music that penetrates the thin walls of their depressingly off-white Winnipeg apartment. The most heroic moment in the film is when Bloody Poop Man does only what anyone in that inescapable situation could do: piss on the neighbor’s doorstep.
At the heart of this film, though is really a group of people who are never truly who they think they are. I know you’re asking how the hell I came to this conclusion. K-Mart Sarah Silverman is actually funnier than her crowd’s response, and even more hysterical after her injury—I won’t spoil it. Pothead Sexpots are really living the dream in spite of our own judgements of their situation. Video Game Man Child may not be the real-life soccer star he would love to be, but he kills it in a game of FIFA on the PlayStation and he has his mother’s unconditional love. And we never know if Bloody Poop Man is really dying or if he, you guessed it, just has a tapeworm. And in an almost Greek chorus kind of way, Bloody Poop Man’s wife even works as waitress at a restaurant called Wanabees.
So while these people roll around in their selfish misery, our outside-the-box perspective affords us the chance to see them for who they really are. My mother always says you can laugh or cry about a situation, and Tapeworm gives us permission to make the most of these folks’ depressing predicaments, and we’re able to enjoy the finest treat the likes of Richard Linklater, Jim Jarmusch, and the 1990s ever gave us in the form of the dark comedy.
Tapeworm isn’t something I could recommend for a fun repeat viewing, you know to lighten up a rainy afternoon, but it certainly has plenty to unpack on a relatable level of struggle that, whether you like it or not, we’ve all dealt with.
Dir: Milos Mitrovic and Fabian Velasco
Scr: Milos Mitrovic and Fabian Velasco
Cast: Alex Ateah, Dave Barber, Stephanie Berrington, Adam Brooks, Jennifer Mauws, Milos Mitrovic, Slobodan Mitrovic, Julie Simpson, Sam Singer
Prd: Ian Bawa, Milos Mitrovic, Kevin Tabachnick, Fabian Velasco
DOP: Markus Henkel
Runtime: 77 minutes
Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.