Intriguing at first, but downright ridiculous by the end
Armie Hammer’s 6ft 4in frame is the sturdiest tool in the shallow and strange Wounds. Part body-horror, part superstitious rumour, Babak Anvari’s third feature borrows tropes from history and mythology alike, but fails to elevate its own fears and convictions into anything original.
Hammer plays Will, a New Orleans bartender who drinks his life away – in-between swatting cockroaches at his workplace, Rosie’s. He serves regulars Alicia (Zazie Beetz) – who turns up one day with a new and somewhat underwhelming boyfriend, Jeffrey – and Eric (Brad William Henke) who end up enhancing and ruining his life in various ways.
It’s one fatal night at the bar, involving a group of underage college students and a breakout brawl injuring Eric, that changes things for Will, whose reality becomes more dangerous and confusing – pushing sanity further away and finding little for him, or the audience, to cling onto.
A mysterious threat scuttles around the film, through smartphones and insects – spreading quietly, slowly, and seldom logically. It’s a slow-burn kind of horror, until it’s not: Anvari can’t resist a few jump scares, a couple of spliced frames of excessively graphic lesions and nightmares.
The ominous menace edges closer, and infiltrates Will’s home life – further damaging his relationship with his PHD student girlfriend Carrie (Dakota Johnson). The romance rarely looks enviable, but his misogynistic comments quickly push her to fully cut ties, scorning him for being hollow before she goes.
It’s this last burn that gives the film its meaning, but then simultaneously lets down any hope for a juicy, intelligent psychology to dive into. One evening Will comes home to find Carrie hypnotised by some sort of tunnel on her computer, and finds she’s been reading up on gnostic rituals – a belief system that decries the material world in favour of higher spiritual beings – finding something to hold accountable for the bizarre events unfolding.
But even with this reasoning, Wounds is plagued by the vast emptiness that motivates its leading man. Hammer is perfectly cast as a poster-figure for surface-level curiosities, attractive frustrations and a straightforward frame to follow as the world spirals out of control. But where other stories have given him something to fight against (Forbidden attraction in Call Me By Your Name, another version of himself in The Social Network), his efforts here aren’t enough to salvage the muddy, bloody ridiculousness of an intriguing, but ultimately derivative anxiety.
Director: Babak Anvari
Starring: Armie Hammer, Dakota Johnson
Release date: 18 October 2019