Hey Internet! Susie here! Please welcome Chris Shea, the newest Contributing Writer here at Stories for Ghosts! Chris is a Producer, Production Manager, Assistant Director, and Director based in Austin, Texas. He has so much filmmaking expertise, and I’m very excited to have him write for the blog! Enjoy his first piece!
***Note: Mild spoilers for Wounds***
Wounds opens and closes with the same image shown on screen to its audience. It’s dark, reminiscent of an H.P. Lovecraft novel, and it’s the driving force behind the film’s antagonist. The image, which seems more like a place, is a harbinger, a warning of the evils to come and possibly a commentary on our ever-present proximity to evil.
Based on Nathan Ballingrud’s dark 2015 novella, The Visible Filth, Wounds picks up in a dimly lit, seedy bar in New Orleans, the city in which Ballingrud wrote his book. Armie Hammer plays Will, a middle-aged bartender with some vivacious regulars he has befriended over time, all of whom are colorful and extreme in ways he is not. He is somehow a functioning alcoholic with a girlfriend named Carrie (played brilliantly by Dakota Johnson, fresh off her turn in Suspiria), who herself is a student and seems to share none of Will’s intense drinking habits.
As Wounds opens, Will and Carrie share numerous tender moments to expound upon the audience that there is a love there, a connection. But, for the most part, it feels like lust from Will, which meets mostly rejection from Carrie, kicking off the film’s tension-laden base. Simultaneously, his relationship with Alicia (Beetz) is reignited as Carrie, slips away to our unseen yet malicious antagonist, which at the very least resembles straight-up, malignant entropy, and at the imaginative most beings from another dimension. There’s a moment in the middle of the film with Beetz and Hammer where you almost forget you’re watching a horror film, but the subject matter is emotionally fascinating enough to hold the interest of the entire room. Carrie (Johnson), on the hand, becomes more and more obsessed with the information Will shared with her from the phone and she starts to mistrust him while imperiling herself.
Anvari is pretty accomplished, it would seem, at solidifying a foundation of tension before the “scary” elements begin to catalyze the action. Will has trouble in his relationship, trouble with himself, trouble with his friends, and then one night, at the bar, he picks up a phone left behind by some underage patrons who witnessed a bar fight, filmed it, and then fled. This is where the film takes a turn, as Will begins receiving text messages from someone at the other end of the phone. Normally this wouldn’t be a scary storytelling aspect, except the messages are pleas for help, followed by an ever-growing cognizance that seems to always be aware of our protagonist’s location and his precarious state of mind. Like many modern-day horror films, much of the story’s exposition is delivered through an illuminated, 5-inch iPhone screen. It’s confining and adds to the tension Anvari sews throughout.
Zazie Beetz plays Alicia, who we’re led to believe may have had a pre-existing relationship with Will. One that involved a high level of drinking along with other intimate connectivity. Beetz is not given a lot to do with her character, who seems pretty one-dimensional. Clearly, she is present only to occupy an ancillary plot line and add fuel to the tension-filled-fire that is Will’s relationship with Carrie. This is one of the film’s biggest missteps as Zazie Beetz is a rapidly-rising star with immense talent, which seems wasted here. Her scenes with an even less-dimensional boyfriend, Garrett (Alexander Biglane), seem purely tertiary to the overall plot.
The last two-thirds of Anvari’s sophomore effort relies heavily on an immense sound design and potentially overused special effects as the tension is ratcheted up and Will’s life begins to disintegrate. Shaky camera work and jump-scares are plodded into some inconsistent pacing and ineffectual dialogue that does nothing to advance the plot and leaves the audience (audibly in some cases) giggling.
However, the story is still attractive on a base level and the interest of the audience well maintained as the plot gains momentum and our characters spin further and further out of control. I found myself wondering what would happen next as this existential nightmare continued to unfold.
Die-hard horror fans will find Wounds scary (there were unapologetically loud screams in the auditorium last night, as well as people who were in disbelief at how emotionally heightened their responses were). There were a lot of audible “Oh. My. God” moments, to be sure, and upon looking around, there were many people shielding their eyes.
However, for viewers wanting a little bit more in the way of “why” or need to better understand the motivations of these characters, you may find yourself wanting. What may or may not be worse is that some of the sound effects cranked up to 11 seem cheap at times because they didn’t have to work to elicit a response in the viewer.
To be fair on that point, there is a subtle but present commentary on toxic masculinity, sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong (especially in the digital era), and the confusions and mistrust that come standard with a healthy drinking habit. The drinking itself seems to be a theme throughout, along with the degradations that come along with said habit. Corrosion. Malignancy. Death and the ending of things. These are all mini-themes that involve the characters seeking redemption.
One thing seems certain though–director Babak Anvari does possess talent, especially if you consider his 2016 Sundance premiere of Under the Shadow, a Farsi-language horror film set in post-revolution Tehran at the height of the Iraq/Iran war made for less than a million dollars. Annapurna financed Wounds and, with Hammer, Johnson, and Beetz at the top of the credit list, my guess is they’ll search for theatrical distribution, but I won’t be surprised at all to see Wounds on Netflix or Amazon by the end of the year.
Let’s just say I will be surprised if Wounds garners a huge following and millions of viewers.