Buoyed by the reception at Fantasia of his feature debut, “All Jacked Up and Full of Worms,” one of the fest’s buzz titles, Chicago-based writer-director Alex Phillips has set his follow-up, “Anything That Moves.”
The announcement comes just after “Worms” won a special mention at the 2022 Fantasia Awards, unveiled July 25.
Slated to shoot in Feb. 2023, in another fillip for Phillips’ burgeoning career, “Anything That Moves” is produced by Eddie Linker, a seminal figure on Chicago’s film scene who has executive or associate produced notable work from high-profile independent directors.
These take in Joe Swanberg (2017 Netflix Original “Win It All,” with Jake Johnson); Alex Ross Perry (2015’s psychological breakdown tale “Queen of Earth, with Elizabeth Moss; 2018 Brooklyn ensemble portrait “Golden Exits”); Josephine Decker (Sundance and Berlin player, “Madeline’s Madeline”) and Zach Clark (2016 SXSW hit “Little Sister”).
Described by Philipps as “another adventurous low-budget project, “Anything That Moves” turns on a beautiful and innocent food delivery boy who bikes through Chicago having sex for money until he gets caught up in a string of murders that traces back to someone in his bed.
“It’s sort of ‘Repo Man’ meets Radley Metzger, with a whiff of ‘Bad Lieutenant,’” Phillips told Variety.
“Alex makes movies which are very rare but make a statement and that’s no easy feat,” Linker told Variety. “He makes movies that people are going to talk about and that’s the kind of what I want to be associated. People want to be challenged when they go into a movie, or just talk about it, and that’s not happening any more.”
Linker added that he also liked Phillips’ highlighting Chicago in “All Jacked Up and Full of Worms” and now foreseeably “Anything That Moves.”
“There’s so much talent in Chicago, the Midwest in general. Everybody is really great at exporting talent out of Chicago to Atlanta, New York and California. If we can make a foothold here, show what’s happening creatively here to other people, hopefully we can keep more people here,” Linker said.
Phillips is currently writing the film’s screenplay with Spencer Parsons, director of 2012 horror feature “Saturday Morning Mystery” 2016 short “Bite Radius” and the upcoming horror film “Mr. Dust,” who mentored Phillips at the Northwestern School of Communication.
He will be taking select meetings on “Anything That Moves” at Montreal’s Frontières Market, which runs July 21-24.
Variety talked to Phillips about “Anything That Moves.”
What inspired “Anything That Moves”?
I used to deliver fast food as a bike delivery guy and I seemed to always get propositioned on the job. And these weren’t like only sexy college kids, this was everybody in the city. I was their point of contact to an outside world. So I started to imagine what it’d be like to build a business model on the porn cliche of sex with the pizza guy. What if now that everything in our lives gets automated and mediated–politics, culture, friendship–it’s up to the kids working fast food to provide human connection?
And what remains from “Worms,” your auteurist voice as it were?
My short films and now “Worms” have a similar tone and perspective of being both deadly serious and completely absurd. “Worms” concludes with this absurd image of a perfect nuclear family – sex worker, sex doll, and moron. The trio feels emotionally honest to me, almost like my body is wired to long for a family, but at the same time, this basic social unit seems to cause a lot of pain in the world. I want all my movies to make audiences cross wires, emotionally deep and also intellectually…ridiculous.
How would you sum up in a brief phrase what the film is essentially about?
This movie is about loneliness, and grasping at any sort of intimacy as the world becomes more distant. The pandemic really broke us, and we are all afraid of each other. I like the idea of an unafraid, emotionally open protagonist who can bridge the gaps between all sorts of people across a wild city. Right now, that idea of open intimacy is also political, it naturally attacks the cultural conservatism in the U.S. I want to make a movie about how it’s revolutionary to follow the body, not just the money.
I sense that this bigger picture will only emerge gradually in the film….
Yes, I want to start the film purely based off character and interpersonal relationships. Then things start to really go wrong and the genre bleeds through. It should grow naturally from the characters’ situations.
You tapped into a wonderful very mainly Chicago cast for your first film. Are you looking to do the same for your second?
I found fantastic collaborators in my previous films, both non-actors and local theater actors in Chicago. They understand my work and trust what I’m doing. It would be stupid of me to not work with many of them again. “Worms” opened up some doors. Our delivery boy visits a lot of different people, entering lives and collaborating in their idiosyncrasies. I think it’s a great opportunity to bring in actors that I haven’t had a chance to work with before who would take a risk and join an adventurous project.
And what style of direction?
It’s similar to what I’m tackling in “Worms,” but this will be thriller set in the bizarre, psychedelic underbelly of a city. Sort of inspired by the way Ferrara’s Driller Killer got into the grit and fantasy of New York’s punk scene through a horror plot.
Would you see this as a step-up in scale compared to “Worms”?
I really want to keep the crew size relatively small and intimate. We can move fast, but get more days done and make a bigger film by continuing to work with a small crew. At least until I can shoot for hundreds of days, I’d like to keep it actually pretty lean.