Back in 2016 at Sundance, I had the chance to watch Babak Anvari’s debut film Under the Shadow. It was fucking terrifying, and for me, announced a great new voice for the horror genre in Anvari. Netflix picked up the film, they had a winner on their hands. I was so excited for people to see this film. Netflix then proceeded to do absolutely nothing with the film, didn’t promote it at all and instead just buried it under their endless stream of content. What a waste, shame on them. If you haven’t watched Under the Shadow yet, I highly recommend adding it to your list. Anvari returns to the festival with his first english-language film, and it is an incredibly unsettling work of horror, a prayer to the body horror cinema of David Cronenberg.
Wounds follows Will (Armie Hammer), a charismatic New Orleans bartender who picks up a phone left behind at his bar after a fight breaks out. After looking at horrific video and photos on the phone, he and his girlfriend Carrie (Dakota Johnson) become aware of a malevolent force as Will loses his grip on reality.
Armie Hammer, who we love and respect here at this site, gives a way more dimensional performance of a way more dimensional character than we’re ever going to give him credit for. He’s kind of a shitty person who constantly mistreats those around him who care for him, yet we still root for him regardlessly. Hammer just has that magnetism and presence about him. And for what it’s worth, he’s very sweaty in this. The rest of the cast – Dakota Johnson, Zazie Beetz, Brad William Henke and Karl Glusman – are all giving solid turns, keeping their interactions strikingly authentic for how bonkers the film gets.
Anvari has a tremendous sense of how to scare you, giving you things that should not be in the frame if you look close enough in each scene. Do not watch this film if you are scared of cockroaches. The sound design does some heavy lifting in this film. There’s a low pitched unsettling quasi-hum that sets in about 2 minutes into the film and resides there as an ever present threat for the rest of it, keeping you constantly on edge. Even the cliched “character is dreaming and then snaps back to reality” jump scares are earned. They actually make you jump, even when you see them coming because Anvari uses the full arsenal of filmmaking to make them feel fresh. The sound editing provides sharp, piercing screeches that attack your ear drums. He cuts in a quick shot of something shocking, grotesque and unique that jolts you. It’s a completely sensory jump scare experience. Now this is how it’s done.
The climax abandons all coherency and interest in explanation, and I thank it for that. It just goes for it. Wounds doesn’t make a lick of sense, but good lord is it gripping. I’m almost astonished this film got made, it’s a minor miracle that it exists. With each passing year, it becomes harder and harder to do midnight screenings. I’m just not as young as I used to be. I can only imagine what it’s like for the volunteers who run the screenings. But thankfully, Wounds rewarded me staying up late and feeling dead when I woke up the next morning. I hope Annapurna doesn’t repeat Netflix’s mistakes and gives Wounds a real chance to succeed, because Anvari deserves it.