Teacher Mr. Geoffrey Dodd (Robert Nolan) walks into his high school classroom and greets his students with zeal and friendliness, but in his head swirls a dialogue that is anything but wholesome. In the Canadian short film Worm, Nolan plays both parts very convincingly.
When Mr. Dodd finds his charade most difficult to play, it's like his smile (feigned interest) or his frown (feigned sympathy) are trying to disobey the laws of gravity. Does this sound like a comedy? It certainly felt like it. I couldn't help but laugh out loud. Emphasis on loud. Mr. Dodd's students are stereotypically dull and disinterested with Mr. Dodd's lessons. He gets back at them for not caring by announcing a pop quiz. And what does Mr. Dodd do to the only student who cares about the work? In an attempt to quell the student's desire -- so believed by Mr. Dodd -- to be his teacher's intellectual equal and to achieve greatness, Mr. Dodd gives him a 5 out of 10 on his thesis paper.
In parts, Worm felt like a parody of a horror movie, or a parody of something. Mr. Dodd imagines his crush, one of his students, blowing a kiss to him with wind blowing through her hair. Of course it's in slow motion. It's clear Mr. Dodd is supposed to be demented, a man who deals with his insecurities by assuring himself that everyone around him is a pathetic, idiotic loser who doesn't care about him or anything worth caring about.
Sometimes it seems like Mr. Dodd's lack of sincerity should be obvious to the people around him, or that his demeanor should at least be deemed suspicious. We all know phony people. They aren't quite so hard to see through. We often react to them with unease, but most characters in Worm don't react to Mr. Dodd that way. Their obliviousness to Mr. Dodd's dark side is sometimes a little hard to believe.
Late in the 20 minute short it becomes clear that this is not supposed to be a comedy. Mr. Dodd's insincerity and disdain for all things that breathe bring him to a breaking point in the bathroom. His thoughts are now dangerously sinister. He expresses his apprehensions out loud with his inner voice assuring him his compulsions are warranted and that no one will suspect anything. It's a conversation. By speaking his dark thoughts, Dodd is clearly showing he is losing the ability to lock them away. He's almost ready to act on them. He wants to. I found myself wanting him to.
Why Nolan's talent as a dramatic actor took so long to show up, I'm not sure. I was perplexed by this apparent genre change, but I surmise the inconsistencies in tone are a fault of the director, not Nolan.