Netflix UK film review: Wounds
Luke Channell | On 14, Oct 2019
Director: Babak Anvari
Cast: Armie Hammer, Dakota Johnson, Zazie Beetz
Watch Wounds online in the UK: Netflix UK
Babak Anvari’s first feature, Under the Shadow, brilliantly blended nerve-jangling scares with the oppressive politics of its Iranian setting to create a truly suffocating horror. Based on a novella by Nathan Ballingrud, Anvari’s sophomore film arrives with much anticipation, but unfortunately fails to build upon his impressive debut.
Wounds revolves around New Orleans bartender Will (Armie Hammer), who spends his days drinking with his regulars, particularly twenty-something Alicia (Zazie Beetz), whose constant presence in this rundown bar never feels conceivable. The film actually begins rather effectively, as Anvari builds an eerie atmosphere that culminates in a shockingly violent brawl. A group of millennials film the fight, but one of them leaves their phone behind when they flee the scene.
Things begin to unravel when Will takes the phone home and starts replying to a series of distressing messages. He soon uncovers some horrifically upsetting pictures, which he shows to his perpetually paranoid girlfriend, Carrie (Dakota Johnson). The phone’s messages increasingly unhinge Will, while Carrie seemingly becomes hypnotised by its strange influence. Soon a mysterious portal and an abundance of cockroaches arrive on the scene, and Wounds descends into a risible, incoherent trip.
Anvari’s script doesn’t lack ideas but fails to develop any of its different strands satisfyingly, with several characters and plot details completely abandoned in the latter stages. Everything is shrouded in a frustrating ambiguity, which leaves the audience in the dark and keeps them there for a tiresome 92 minutes. The strange curse that seems to be haunting Will and Carrie is ill-defined and lacks intrigue – what should be enticingly enigmatic just comes off as tediously opaque.
Wounds’ talented cast are given very little to work with, especially Johnson, whose thankless jealous girlfriend role is particularly regressive. Her poisonous relationship with Will never feels authentic, perhaps because the dialogue between them is so painfully stilted. Even Will feels severely underdeveloped and Hammer clearly struggles with this lacklustre characterisation, his gonzo performance proving memorable for all the wrong reasons. Elsewhere, Alicia’s whole purpose seems to be to highlight Will’s toxic masculinity and sense of entitlement.
The ham-fisted dialogue undercuts any attempts at creepiness, provoking unintended hilarity when it should be generating chills. Anvari’s attempts to sustain a tense tone also fall flat thanks to some jarringly awful sound design. Everything has the potential to cause a jump scare in Wounds, from mobile phones to air conditioning units.
Wounds concludes in typically exasperating fashion with a ridiculously flimsy set-piece that has to be seen to be believed. Anvari is clearly a gifted director, as his low-budget debut feature proved, but this venture into more mainstream horror filmmaking is a crass, nonsensical mess.
Wounds is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.