Wounds movie review: Armie Hammer, Dakota Johnson's horror film struggles to rise above cliches and tropes
Wounds is riddled with super-cheap jump scare tactics, pointless gore, and ineffective sinister atmospherics.
Sometime last year, I happened to watch a fascinating little horror film aboard a transatlantic flight. It was the debut of a British-Iranian filmmaker named Babak Anvari. It told the story of a young mother and her little daughter who were tormented by a supernatural evil even as the war between Iran and Iraq intensified in a ravaged and nearly deserted neighbourhood of 1980s Tehran.
That film was Under the Shadow. Despite the uncomfortable and sub-optimal cattle class experience of watching it on a tiny screen while nursing a stiff back, I remember I had been quite intrigued by the neat and no-nonsense style of Anvari’s filmmaking. Which was why I had kept him on my watchlist. This year, when I stumbled across Wounds – another horror film by Anvari – I was quick to jump on to it. And although Wounds is nowhere near the high standard its maker has set for himself, it explores some dark alleys of human psychology and social behaviour. And it does this with sincerity. But is sincerity a sufficient condition in creating good art? As it turned out, it is not.
The film tells the story of Will, a bartender who works a New Orleans bar named Rosie’s. Will is the sort of guy who everybody loves. The regulars at his bar love him; his employer and co-workers love him. Even the neighbourhood cops love him. And of course, there is Carrie – his girlfriend – who thinks the world of him. Will has the perfect life, a lot of freedom at work, and is generally having the time of his life. But everything changes overnight, and quite unexpectedly at that. When a scuffle breaks out in his bar, a group of young students leave in a hurry, leaving their cellphone behind. After things cool down, Will finds the phone and brings it home. Over the next few days, he begins to receive creepy texts on the phone. His life slowly begins to fall apart – in a manner he could not have possibly seen coming.
The film has been branded a psychological horror – which it perhaps is. But it is not the horror elements of the film that scared me. No, not the super-cheap jump scare tactics (this is where Anvari lost me), not the gore, not even the sinister atmospherics. None of these were as scary as the other aspect of the film, which was the real horror. In my reading, the film demonstrated how fragile our social fabric is, and how easily our lives can shatter to pieces, even in face of the slightest trauma or tragedy. As I was watching Anvari’s film, I was instantly reminded of Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist, which had a similar approach.
Evil, as they say, has always existed on this planet since the beginning of time. And it will continue to do so. We cannot hope to simply wish it away. But over time, our resilience to fight evil seems to have diminished by an alarming degree. Take Will’s relationships, for instance. When his life begins to come apart, the bonds that seemed to connect him with his friends and loved ones snap so quickly, that that itself constitutes the lion’s share of the horror of his story. As I sat watching the film, I wondered if a relationship that cannot stand the test of even one altercation can be called a relationship at all. We have come a long way from the dark ages, and traveled through centuries to reach a state where we are so complacent about our existence we seem to take several crucial things for granted. Things such as freedom, love, dignity, friendship, and security among others. What if everything we thought we had was slowly but surely taken away from us one by one? Where would that leave us? This is a question Wounds asks. Although it is a pertinent question, the vehicle it uses to pose the query to us is itself questionable.
Nothing much is clear about what exactly happens to Will and his friends. There are talks about a ritual, and the opening of a portal that invited ‘higher beings’ into our world. It is surmised that these beings use human wounds as tunnels or conduits to move from one place to another. If any of these were used to convey something other than their apparent meaning, the similes and metaphors were certainly all lost on me.
Armie Hammer gives a brilliant performance as the guy who has everything but is slowly losing it all one by one. I liked the desperation he portrayed. He was consistent throughout the film, from the first shot of him to (perhaps) his last. Dakota Johnson plays his girlfriend – a free-spirited girl who finds it difficult to convey the love she feels for Will in words and actions. The fact that Will is openly critical of higher education – something she actively pursues – seems to create an invisible tension between them too. Johnson portrays this as accurately and effortlessly as she put up the performance of a woman who is not above and beyond the clutch of jealousy and doubt. As one of the bar regulars, Zazie Beetz plays a crucial role in the film, acting somewhat of a catalyst to the breakdown. Hers is perhaps the most well-written character in the film.
Films such as Wounds are bound to be panned by critics, and certainly fail at the box office because they are essentially hiding many stories within themselves, stories that are difficult to fathom in casual viewings. A discerning and close examination throws up a number of possibilities, meanings, and interpretations. But having said that, it is also true Wounds is, by no means, a great film – certainly not in the league of other ‘social’ horror films, such as Brad Anderson’s Session 9, for instance. It is an important lens through which life could be explored but there are far too many distractions that you will need to navigate in order to do so.
Wounds is now streaming on Netflix.
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