Movie Review: A Boy called “Wyrm” Copes with Loss and Virginity in an Alternate Reality

In a world where home computers co-exist with The Golden Age of Cassettes, where “hate mail” is still on the printed page and ’70s fashions, architecture and furniture are frozen in time, where kids’ sexual development is monitored by electronic collars and everybody gets a good Ted Bundy put-down, a boy named “Wyrm” comes of age.

Writer-director Christopher Winterbauer’s “Wyrm” wears its weirdness like a museum special exhibit — “Mid-century Mod Meets The Absurd.” His loopy debut feature, developed from his earlier short film of the same title, takes on grief and loss and adolescence, coming at every Big Theme and minor subtext just a little off center.

It’s cinematic proof that sometimes you have to look at things askew, wander through the odd or absurd, just to see the obvious.

Wyrm (Theo Taplitz) is about to start high school, joining his older sister Myrcella (Azure Brandi), who figures this next step on the road to adulthood means he should, you know, stop sharing a bedroom with her.

Things are seriously “off” at their house. Quirky Uncle Chet (Tommy Dewey) is raising them, alongside his new Spanish speaking girlfriend Flor (Natalia Abelleyra). The screwball parents who named their kids Wyrm and Myrcella aren’t around — not dead, just not around. Dad appears to be close by, but is keeping his distance. Mom is on “a trek,” some lengthy hike which she sometimes interrupts to call home.

Not that Myrcella takes those calls. Only Wyrm seems to care. He’s a cassette-recorder-obsessed kid, gathering sound and interviews for a planned tribute to their brother, the normally-named Dylan. Dylan, we gather, is dead.

But Wyrm’s more immediate problem is getting rid of this collar in which the state monitors his sexual development.

I know what you’re thinking, but as nobody drawls and there are no ten gallon hats or palm trees, this isn’t Texas. Or Florida.

A tween or teen’s first kiss is all it takes to “pop your collar” and clear “Level One Sexuality.” Wyrm doesn’t want to be the last kid in his new school with one, even if he’s cleverly hiding it behind a seasonally-inappropriate scarf.

The teens are the usual array of tactless, rude, mean and hormonal “types.”

“You shouldn’t make fun of him. His brother died.”

The administrators and even his pediatrician are worried about Wyrm’s “progress,” and the extreme steps he starts to take to improve on it. He takes note that “cousins don’t count,” any more than mothers or sisters (Myrcellaa hates him, and ridicules his “Oedipus complex” fixation on their absent mother). He takes shot at same-sex smooching, and even decides that physical injuries might win him a pity liplock. He breaks his own arm, something Myrcella has heard of another young man doing to get closer to the opposite sex.

“You and Ted Bundy have the same ideas.”

But even though the winsome, wine stain birthmarked Izzy (Lulu Wilson) seems half-interested, that first-kiss/romance thing is but a subtext. What “Wyrm” is really about is how people process grief. The parents ran away. Wyrm tape records “tributes” to his brother. And Myrcella lashes out by sending anonymous, abusive, secrets-spilling hate mail — by letter — to classmates and acquaintances.

She just wants them to hurt like she does.

All of this unfolds in a downbeat and deadpan film that finds humor in the inappropriate over-sharing of kids that age, in the dial-up “miracle” of the Internet, and of the formalized, codified nature of human development supervised by the state.

Yes, you need to “kiss” to “pop your collar.” The vice principal prefers the word “osculation,” as indeed would the state.

Taplitz, of “Gringo” and “Little Men,” makes an amusingly hapless leading boy-man, Brandi a perfectly cutting older sibling and Wilson (“Modern Love,” “The Glorias”) a disarmingly aloof but kinder than she acts (we think) new acquaintance.

Nobody on screen is a “star,” and the story is so odd and told in such an offbeat way that “Wyrm” — even the title’s kind of a turnoff — might be the quintessential “film festival film,” one more at home in the rarefied world of film fans who gather to see movies just like this.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it out.

Rating: unrated, sexual subject matter, innuendo

Cast: Theo Taplitz, Azure Brandi, Tommy Dewey, Natalia Abelleyra, Lulu Wilson and Alanna Ubach

Credits: Scripted and directed by Christopher Winterbauer. A Vertical release.

Running time: 1:37

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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