Disturbing and mysterious things begin to happen to a bartender in New Orleans after he picks up a phone left behind at his bar.
After Under The Shadow, we knew we needed to sit up, pay attention and take notice to Babak Anvari. His deft ability in the cinema was striking, to say the least. Now, with his second feature film, we see that this was no fluke. Wounds is a visceral, disturbing descent into the destruction of a man that hits all of the conventional horror notes with sadistic joy taking viewers on a ride straight to hell.
Anvari opens the film, very cleverly, with a disarming scene in Rosie’s bar. It is here that Will (Armie Hammer) runs the roost as star employee and co-manager of the local New Orleans dive bar. Sharing banter and quips with Will are regulars Alicia (Zazie Beetz) and her boyfriend Jeffrey (Karl Glusman). Everything seems pretty much average for a slow night at a bar. Eric (Brad William Henke), who lives in an apartment just above the bar arrives and starts to stir things up. A group of underage kids led by Garret (Alexander Biglane) comes in and buys some beers. Then the raucous Eric and his pals get into a brawl resulting in a brutal scuffle, and the teens scatter, leaving behind a cell phone. Okay, whatever, a stranger-than-usual night at the bar. Whatever.
“Will starts snooping on the phone and discovers some pretty shocking videos depicting murder and demonic rituals.”
It’s only when Will decides to be the good Samaritan and take the phone with him that things start to go off the rails. Will starts snooping on the phone and discovers some pretty shocking videos depicting murder and demonic rituals. To make matters worse, Will’s girlfriend Carrie (Dakota Johnson) becomes suspicious of his connection to the mysterious contents on the phone, and their relationship slowly begins to unravel. To make matters worse, Will’s patron and occasional fling Alicia starts to have serious concerns about his mental state. Then things get really weird.
Will begins to have demonic hallucinations regarding the practice of connecting with supernatural powers via physical wounds. In a very Cronenberg way, Anzari goes full-on body horror as Will progressively disconnects with reality and begins his fascination and descent into total madness.
Hammer’s performance is unhinged, insane, and totally relatable which makes it all the more terrifying as his world begins to crumble around him. Johnson further pays penance for the Fifty Shades movies and solidifies her horror cred as the one who observes her boyfriend’s mental departure with concern and insatiable curiosity. Then there’s Beetz and their verboten love interest and Henke as the insufferable Eric. A small cast here with everyone delivering wonderful work. Still, this is Hammer’s movie, and damn, he turns it out.
“Hammer’s performance is unhinged, insane, and totally relatable…”
Wounds is a profane exploration of secrecy, identity, relationships, and the taboo. A weird mix, sure, but it is all about the things so awful they are too difficult to speak of. Anvari takes these notions and infuses creepy crawly cockroaches, dismemberment, disfigurement, trust, and an unreliable narrator that we are not sure is all there. Then there is the sound design. Damn. A team of disturbingly talented people creates a soundscape that slurps, flutters and buzzes all around the audience more and more as the insanity takes over.
I have to say that I had no idea what was coming, and I am glad for it. Wounds is one F’d up exploration of the demons we carry with us and the urge we have to let them out.
Wounds (2019) Written and directed by Babak Anvari. Starring Dakota Johnson, Armie Hammer, Zazie Beetz, Brad William Henke, Karl Glusman.
8 out of 10 stars