Mongolian Death Worm is another of those Syfy original movies that doesn’t fail to disappoint. I understand these kinds of films are low budget and don’t set out to create a vehicle to examine the human condition; instead its only goal is to thrill its viewers, and there’s nothing paltry about that in this medium. Thing is, even with all the Mongolian Death Worms writhing around as big as cars, hunting human flesh, there’s not a single thrilling scene in the entire movie.
The story involves three separate parties in Mongolia affected by the Mongolian Death Worms. One party tries drilling for oil, but the giant worms’ underground existence disturbs the oil pumps. The second party is headed by an adventurer (played by Sean Patrick Flannery) searching for Ghengis Khan’s treasure, and by detecting tremors in the ground created by the killer worms he can trace its location – why, because it is said the Mongolian Death Worms are never too far from Khan’s treasure, since they are after all meant to protect it from thievery. The last party is comprised of charitable doctors trying to save a village after the worms contaminated the well water, causing an outbreak of disease. And as you can probably guess, the characters are caricatures. The good adventurer is just adventurous and good, even though he pretends to be callous and uncaring; the greedy and ruthless oil drillers are never afraid to kill to get what they want; and the charitable doctors are just a nice bunch of folks out to save the world. And they’re all at the mercy of these giant worms, who are agile enough to climb walls and jump on cars when they are above ground. That sounds frightening enough to make for a wild 90 minutes, right? Unfortunately, that is not the case.
I can’t help but feel the director and writers saw any death by giant worm as exciting enough and not needing the application of basic storytelling techniques to truly stir the viewers’ emotions – to make them wish death on the bad guys and a clean escape from the deadly creatures for the good guys. But throughout the film, you just don’t care who gets killed. You never care about a character enough by the time he or she is looking down the giant pincers of a Death Worm. Sometimes the film introduces a character and literally a minute later he’s waist-deep inside of one of the creatures. But even giving a character more screen time before killing him off wouldn’t help in this film, when the writing and performances are so painfully stale. Without those essential components of good writing and acting, I feel a film intended to be a thriller is a lost cause. Steven Spielberg’s Jaws works because the writing and performances are brilliant; the protagonists become real people on the screen you don’t want to see turn into fish food. The same goes for the film Tremors, a much more successful thriller about killer worms, with characters brought to life by far better writing, directing and acting.
So what’s the point of these Syfy originals then if their low budgets prevent them from being thrill-rides? Are we supposed to watch these movies with rowdy friends and just enjoy them for the laughs they incite whenever a poor line is delivered in a way to make that line even worse, or whenever a character is killed off in such a ridiculously awkward fashion? Perhaps their quality to make us laugh is their virtue. If so, well done. But don’t get me wrong, too much of this kind of film is certainly painful, laughs or no laughs. And Mongolian Death Worm is no exception. Watching it, I was wishing the entire time for Tremors, for Jaws, for just a good film.