Wounds (2019)

How deep do they go

After reading some of the online reviews and user ratings for the new horror/ psychological thriller Wounds, it’s clear that the film is simply too strange for most. Its title refers to both physical and internal wounds and needs more unpacking than your average type of scary movie. Nevertheless, writer-director Babak Anvari — who’s making his English language debut here after 2016’s Under the Shadow — has crafted a dark, ominous atmospheric potboiler that feels part Clive Barker, part H. P. Lovecraft, part David Cronenberg, and part David Lynch. Even though all its ingredients mightn’t necessarily add up as tidily as one might hope, this is a genuinely disturbing flick that’s worth your time, mainly if you enjoy this sort of demented entertainer.

Based on the novel The Visible Filth by Nathan Ballingrud, the film opens with a quote from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which states how the jungle transformed Colonel Kurtz into a ruthless tyrant, a journey that’s similar to that of our protagonist, a lazy shmuck with no desire ever to get his life on track and is targeted by a malevolent being that tries to latch onto the emptiness inside him. Our protagonist is bartender Will (Armie Hammer), who works the nightshift at a New Orleans dive called Rosie’s. Although Will is dating Dakota Johnson’s college babe Carrie, he’s secretly trying to hook up with his friend Alicia (Zazie Beetz), who’s seeing a twentysomething dude named Jeffrey (Karl Glusman), whom she brings into the dingy bar almost every night.

Streaming is Evil

After another regular, meathead Eric (Brad William Henke), gets into a drunken brawl that clears the bar, Will finds an innocent-looking phone that’s left behind by a bunch of underage drinkers whom he casually served earlier. If this weren’t a horror film, that’d be that. But it is, so it’s not. And so, Will takes the cell home and figures out how to unlock it. Just before he does, however, he gets some strange messages from someone called ‘Garrett,’ which compels him to probe further, where he finds images of dead bodies and severed heads on the device. From there, his girlfriend discovers the phone and instantly thinks that Will might be cheating on her, suggesting that there’s some kind of history there. Alas, things get even weirder after that, with Will having alarming hallucinations and seeing cockroaches everywhere. In the meantime, Carrie does some research of her own, leading her to a Necronomicon-type manuscript called The Translation of Wounds and a site with a link to a video of a moving black tunnel. Will eventually receives a text from Garrett saying that he’s ‘been chosen’ and the situation goes from freaky to totally f’d up!

It’s clear that Anvari is trying to do a lot with Wounds, literally borrowing from a ton of similar genres then throwing everything he can at the screen. There’s a hint of The Ring (2002) (a smartphone replacing a VHS), Cronenbergian body horror — Will finds an infected wound under his sweaty armpit with some sort of a bug burrowing inside — Evil Dead type rituals, and even Joe’s Apartment (1996) — if you hate cockroaches, avoid this one. We also get stuff about Gnostic rituals that open portals to Plemora (the spiritual world) where godlike beings and Aeons reside. So, yeah, there’s a heap of effed up shit here, even if a lot of it is hard to digest or doesn’t make sense, Wounds working best in a ‘WTF did I just see?’ kinda way.

Fix me and make me whole.

The film’s most effective element is its unforgettable imagery — the gory, gooey make-up and prosthetics FX (Will, for instance, envisions the decapitated head of anyone who pisses him off). The standout, though, is its unforgettable climax, which features one of the most horrifically twisted final shots in recent memory. Anvari even nails the mood and sinister milieu and does a stellar job creating a dark, dank, skin-crawling backdrop for the horror to unfold — from the roach-infested bar to Will’s filthy home, every grimy location adds to the flick’s sense of foreboding dread. Let’s just say it had my hairs standing on end, and I’m a pretty seasoned horror fan. Less successful, however, is the way Anvari tries to link the ‘monster’ with Will’s inner emptiness, exploring themes of macho insecurity and inner pain, chiefly how some people can be hollow on the inside — with that in mind, the film’s conclusion can be interoperated in a variety of different ways.

The whole thing is held together by an excellent performance by Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name (2017), who is an odd choice given that he’s so charismatic, and yet the character he’s playing is such an asshole. Will’s clearly got good looks but very little else — he’s temperamental, moody, and lazy. At one point, he’s even referred to as a ‘mock person.’ This, however, isn’t a ‘mock performance’ as while Hammer doesn’t quite make Will a sympathetic lead, he does deliver on the darker and more outlandish moments of the role, which includes running around New Orleans in a sweaty panic. Dakota Johnson, Suspiria (2018), is okay as Will’s partner Carrie, despite not having a great deal to do bar maybe argue with Hammer (she gets a couple of juicy lines, though). Similarly, Zazie Beetz, Deadpool 2 (2018), does the best she can to breathe life into a stock-y character whom we know very little about outside her connections to Will.

‘Forget about the roaches and come back to bed.’

Taking everything into account, Wounds is a bizarre and unnerving pic. It’s an insane, nasty little flick with interesting mythology, a strong leading performance, and some of the most unsettling imagery the genre has to offer. It requires more from an audience (a quick Google afterward might help clear up a couple of things) than most films of this ilk but makes for a rewarding experience for those who dig Lovecraftian literature. When this ultimately does become a cult classic, I reckon a lot of naysayers might be licking their wounds.

4.5 / 5 – Highly Recommended

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Wounds is currently streaming on Netflix