January 18, 2020

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Winnipeg film really sucks -- in a good way

Supplied</p><p>Adam Brooks plays a hypochondriac in Tapeworm.</p>


Adam Brooks plays a hypochondriac in Tapeworm.

FOR the blissfully unaware, tapeworms are parasites that live in the digestive tract of vertebrates, including humans, dogs, pigs and cows. They can live up to 30 years and grow to be 15 metres long. They feast on the nutrients in the food you eat and make you very, very sick.

Armed with the above knowledge, Tapeworm is an apt title for this feature film written and directed by Winnipeg filmmakers Milos Mitrovic and Fabian Velasco.

There are, thankfully, no shots of any tapeworms in the film. Depression, it is suggested, is the result of an emotional tapeworm that eats away at all the good things in your world and sucks the life out of you.

Tapeworm features an ensemble cast of local actors and is a carefully considered and beautifully performed character study. The nameless leads consist of a hypochondriac (Adam Brooks), a failed comedian (Alex Ateah), a loner (Milos Mitrovic) and two stoners (Stephanie Berrington and Sam Singer).

Each is on a tragic journey, beginning in a state of existential dread and eventually ending up in a different state of existential dread. It’s a deeply internal trip, with only a few supporting characters to alter, impact or challenge the protagonists along the way.

But that’s not a flaw: it’s a choice that makes sense. After all, the real obstacle of depression is your own brain.

Mitrovic and Velasco wisely give the film room to breathe. The shots are populated with sparse, occasionally improvised dialogue and shots that linger a little too long for comfort: a closeup on bloody fecal matter, a comedian leaving the stage to no applause after a failed set, a man crying on a mattress as a couple has sex in a quarry.

"Please continue," whispers the man.

He begins to cry as the opening credits start to roll.

Mitrovic calls Tapeworm an anti-comedy but rest assured it is very, very funny. Uncomfortable and full of second-hand embarrassment, it depicts situations and circumstances that are shameful and weird but also familiar and relatable.

The starring cast is uniformly good in their roles, depicting effortless naturalism within an absurdist cinematic landscape. Brooks gives a riveting performance as the hypochondriac and Ateah demonstrates significant emotional range in her depiction of a bad comic (Ateah herself is actually a very successful comedian).

This isn’t a feel-good comedy, but it certainly feels real. The situations and the emotions on display are unsettlingly and disturbingly truthful and rooted in an existential dread that any millennial can likely relate to. We’re sort of a generation plagued by emotional tapeworms, after all, desperately trying to find our way after the promise of being a special snowflake went unfulfilled.

A tapeworm is treatable with medication. The pills have a 95 per cent success rate. We treat depression with pills now, too, although the rate of success is much more difficult to determine.

Tapeworm combines a bit of both. It’s a successful feature film debut by Mitrovic and Velasco, even though the cure the characters are hoping for — and the audience wants to see — is never found.


Twitter: @franceskoncan


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