Portland Horror Film Festival Short Review: EARWORM (2016)

A selection of the Portland Horror Film Festival, I review the annoying and cringe worthy short by filmmaker Tara Price entitled EARWORM. Having a sensory and connecting effect as you become a voyeur to a very unpleasant experience, a middle-aged man (Ernest Thomas) is slowly awakened, tormented, and driven to a painful discomfort by some sort of earworm that likes loud, poppy rock. A bit confusing on how this happened, he is driven to extreme circumstances and must get inside his head to extract this micro music menace in the most painful way possible.

With very little exposition, EARWORM spans over several nights slowly building tension for not only the main character but the viewer also. Silly for sure and a bit vague in story, this short form film was just down right annoying. Offering no dialogue (which to a certain degree works) but instead painful vocal execrations as well as reactionary performance, I watched EARWORM three times with the hope that I would grab something redeeming. In the end, I pulled out several things (no pun intended). I realized that EARWORM can be taken different ways to different people. I wondered is this short perhaps symbolic of that song you just can’t shake or get out of your mind? Is it an alien probing? Does the meaning come from a trauma that we can’t let go? Perhaps, it is the filmmaker’s childhood being painfully recreated or it is just a release of cringing body horror?

EARWORM is solid both visually and auditory. Price, crew and Thomas create a convincing short form film that has all the check marks that film festivals look for during the selection process. Detailed lighting, quality camera work, reaction, blend of horror, good sound work, smart edit and a fitting running time. From a technical side, Price makes the viewer feel uncomfortable by creating a sensory experience taking time and care to make sure every aspect is effective.

I feel, however, it needed more development of story. With films like SHIVERS, BRAIN DAMAGE, SLITHER, and THE MUMMY (1999), these films have elements of body horror that are similar to EARWORM but offer more background rather than just a handful of reactionary moments. I know, it is a short film, I get that. However, it shows that it has potential to be something much more. This version reminds me of what I would see at an experimental or underground film festival where gore, blood and pain are staples of the programming not story. What EARWORM has got going for it and what has peaked the interest of fans and programmers is the shock value and human connection.

We all understand and perhaps at one point in our lives had something in our ear canal and we became so panicked to remove it, that we would do anything. The sound of it echoing. The complete insanity of digging and twisting a tweezer. The relief that comes when it has exited. So basic, so palpable, so effective. That is what EARWORM has in spades and for many who watch this, I have no doubt the first impression viewing is what hooks. Does it have a watch again feel? I don’t think so. For me, after watching it a few times, it just annoys me even with the cool and complete extraction scene, sound design/edit and Thomas’ performance that really makes you cringe. Not a favorite of mine, EARWORM will have a crowd of fans who love to see people in pain and are into body horror.

Jay Kay
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