• Nate Adams

'Wyrm' review: Quirky teen comedy offers unique look at sexual positivity


Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment

 

Christopher Winterbauer’s debut feature, based on his own short film, “Wyrm” (pronounced “worm”) creates a unique world for its characters to inhabit. Not far removed from the humor of cult classic “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Wyrm” takes place in a society where sexual postivity is so pertinent, it’s no longer positive, but tiresome. So goes the tale of the main character, Wyrm, a dinosaur-loving ninth grader currently making a memorial for his late brother, Dylan who died in a car accident, and trying to conjure methods of getting the shock collar on his neck removed. The only way he can do this is by completing the mandated Level One Sexuality Requirement, which is essentially nabbing a first kiss (he did get one, but his teachers say it doesn’t count because the kid was autistic). The educators advise Wyrm he should get this done or risk getting held back while his classmates advance towards the next step of the program. Intercouse!


Winterbauer, who directed HBO Max’s decent “Moonshot,” constructs a unique parable for how quickly teenagers are assimilated into their sexual awakenings. It’s an often funny, and heartbreaking reminder of the awkwardness which stems from discovering what makes you click and the desperation of finding an intimate human connection. “Wyrm” exists within a realm where the government has made it illegal for children to be alone, hence the shock collar program that encourages contact. One might look at the film and think it’s only about teenagers trying to “pop their collar,” but it's deeply rooted in loneliness. Wyrm, played with top-tier authenticity by Theo Taplitz, struggles to find the balance in his life, which isn’t helped by an annoying sister, Myrcella (Azure Brandi) and a freewheeling Uncle Chet (Tommy Dewey) who only makes Nachos for dinner.


Taking place in the ‘90s where the internet is beginning to take shape (a hilarious metaphor considering most folks are now meeting each other via social media these days), Winterbauer carefully molds how Wyrm sees his current predicament and complicated relationship with Dylan/peers (plus mom and dad are nowhere to be seen). “Wyrm” gives an impassioned and alternate view of reality and teenage anxiety that’s hard to fathom: Can you imagine living with essentially a branded reminder of your sexual impotence? I try pondering the conversation’s parents have with their children when they come home without the collar. Then again, Winerbauer does an excellent job establishing how bizarre the adult figures are within Wyrm’s orbit; it's probably a moot point. They’d welcome it.


“Wyrm” occasionally detracts into more obscure territory that can sour the overall vibe (Rhea Seahorn of “Better Call Saul” fame has an odd cameo playing a pediatrician), but Winterbauer plants his characters firmly in the world of teenage angst. “Wyrm” might not ascend to the level of popularity “Napoleon Dynamite” has endured for nearly two decades, but those who inadvertently stumble upon it while thumbing through the glutton of streaming options will be happy they give it a chance.


Grade: B


WYRM opens in select theaters and VOD/Digital Friday, June 10th.