Wounds is one film that truly thinks highly of itself; in reality, it’s nothing more than mutton dressed as lamb, with everything and nothing going on simultaneously.
After the overwhelming success of Babak Anvari’s insanely chilling, genre-busting debut feature Under the Shadow, distinctly high hopes were held for Netflix horror film Wounds. Regrettably, the British-Iranian writer-director’s psychological horror doesn’t come close to the polished flair of its critically-acclaimed forerunner. Instead, we appear to have an unfortunate case of the sophomore slump on our hands here, with a follow-up effort worthy of significant disbelief and a touch of derision – on top of the standard reactions to a jumpy, box-checking horror.
Adapted from Nathan Ballingrud’s 2015 novella The Visible Filth, we focus on Will (Armie Hammer), a sleazy barman at a grimy boozer on New Orleans’ famed Bourbon Street. Rosie’s is a seedy joint, home to hedonism and seriously in need of an exterminator. Here, many a bar brawl is had between drinkers, some barely out of nappies. Will would rather be here though, flirting with local hotties and ogling those with a penchant for getting their baps out, rather than at home with his long-suffering girlfriend Carrie (Dakota Johnson).
One night, following the breakout of a particularly aggressive fight, Will finds a mobile phone on the floor. Back at his apartment, he begins to receive a series of bizarre and distressing text messages. Does this morally bankrupt loser make the mistake of responding to them? As the idiot who would definitely head upstairs to investigate a creak or bump in a home-invasion film, of course he does. And then a load of weird stuff starts to go down, much of which might benefit from that exterminator.
All of this is certainly far from trite; that much is true. Wounds is about as pedestrian as a bunch of Brexiteers rolling out the red carpet for a boat full of refugees with a peal of trumpets. While the same can be said of 80s ghost story Under the Shadow, the former doesn’t boast the same social subtext as the latter. Relatability goes a long way in horror, but Anvari does away with any such social commentary here, with a preference for the creation of something super arty.
What he’s actually managed to craft is really just a hella disenchanting, chaotic hodgepodge of concepts and qualities. These are all infuriatingly at odds with one another, none ever managing to take hold properly in the way they could or should. There’s little time for any to develop sufficiently in a crazily disconnected, tumbledown script that falls back on cheap, loud jump scares rather than establishing genuine suspense. Ultimately, Wounds feels more like a marijuana-fuelled night terror (not that I’d know anything about that) than an enjoyably coherent narrative.
The disastrous effects of this include leaving Hammer, Johnson, and the other performers on Anvari’s roster without adequate space to showcase their talents. It’s hugely disappointing that a great cast is wasted on such a messy movie featuring flatly-written characters. That said, Hammer is given greater opportunity to shine than his colleagues, acquitting himself as well as he can as a dumb, alcoholic “mock person.”
Netflix’s Wounds is no doubt an endeavor to appeal to a decided niche group of appreciators, of which I am normally a member. On this occasion, the oddities featured are too much even for my usual insouciance towards the outlandish. Anvari has clearly drawn influences from all over the show, including the master of beautiful-grotesque himself, Guillermo del Toro, among others. Sadly, the writer-director fails to achieve the same lofty heights as the greats from which he borrows.
Netflix horror film Wounds is one film that truly thinks highly of itself; in reality, it’s nothing more than mutton dressed as lamb, with everything and nothing going on simultaneously. This leads to utter dismay and subsequently to the question, ‘What the bugger is Anvari up to?’ Perhaps he should take a stroll down to Rosie’s, knock back a couple of whiskey sours, and ponder his next move far more carefully.
Steven is a Scottish freelance Film & TV Journalist based in London. He earned a BA in Journalism from Edinburgh Napier University before moving onto ghost-and content-writing. Steven now covers Film & TV for various websites.