Wounds (2019) ☆☆(2/4): Disturbing but ultimately hollow

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I do not mind being confused while watching horror flicks, as long as they intrigue or excite or, above all, terrify me. Unfortunately, Babk Anvari’s second feature film “Wounds”, which was released by Hulu in the US while being released by Netflix in other countries in last week, only confused me without providing much substance on the whole, and that is a shame considering that it is equipped with good disturbing mood and the admirable effort from its leading performer.

Armie Hammer, who has diligently shown us that he is more than a good-looking dude since his memorable supporting turn in David Fincher’s “The Social Network” (2010), plays Will, a young man working as a bartender in some seedy bar located somewhere in New Orleans. When he is going through another usual night at the bar while talking with Alicia (Zazie Beetz) and her boyfriend, a brutal fight occurs between two guys, and then everyone in the bar leaves the scene after Will calls the police. Although one of these two guys gets seriously injured on his face, he does not seem care much about that much, and neither does his opponent, who was savagely beaten by him but manages to leave the bar along with his drinking friends.

Right before this unpleasant incident, a group of college kids were drinking beer together, and one of them happened to leave behind a smartphone while scurrying away from the bar along with the other college kids. Not long after Will takes this smartphone to a house where he lives with his girlfriend Carrie (Dakota Johnson), a text message comes, and it seems to be from one of these college kids, but Will casually dismisses the following text messages, even though it looks like something serious is happening to whoever is sending these text messages.

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Of course, things gradually become ominous for Will after, out of curiosity, he looks into what is inside this smartphone, which turns out to contain a number of very unnerving images. It is quite possible that the college kids are involved with some insidious supernatural matter, and Will soon finds himself quite obsessed with what he saw from the smartphone. Although he eventually comes to decide that he really should take it to the police, it already looks like an unknown dark force is gathering around him, and the circumstance keeps getting out of his control no matter how much he tries to handle it.

As slowly dialing up the level of creepiness during its first half, the movie gives a series of disturbing moments to generate fear and dread on the screen. Effectively mixed with insinuating sound effects, the ambient music by Komeil S. Hosseini frequently unnerves us, and the movie also often jolts us with the abrupt insertion of alarming images as we become less certain about its hero’s increasingly unreliable viewpoint. Is he really getting influenced by some evil spirit out there? Or, is he just losing his mind as being frustrated a lot with how his life has been going nowhere for years?

However, Anvari’s screenplay, which is based on horror novella “The Visible Filth” by Nathan Ballingrud, does not provide much depth to its story and characters. During the second half, the movie pushes its hero into more fear and dread as expected, but we only come to observe his plight from the distance without much care because he is too bland and uninteresting to hold our attention from the beginning, and it is all the more disappointing to see how the movie hurriedly arrives at its half-baked finale during its last 10 minutes. While it surely plunges its hero into heart of darkness as promised by the quotation of a certain work of Joseph Conrad at the beginning, the finale is merely confusing without much dramatic impact, and we are just left with more confusion and dissatisfaction in the end.

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Anyway, it should be mentioned that Hammer did a commendable job of carrying the film alone by himself. Although his committed performance here in this film is frequently hampered by its weak plot and superficial characterization, he demonstrates a considerable range of his acting talent as he previously did in “Call Me by Your Name” (2017), and that makes the film worthwhile to watch to some degree.

In contrast, the other notable main cast members of the movie are sadly under-utilized in their flat supporting roles. While Dakota Johnson, a talented actress who has steadily distanced herself away from “Fifty Shades of Grey” (2015) and its two ridiculous sequels via a number of solid performances, is totally wasted as being more or less than a plot element to be manipulated, Zazie Beetz, who has been more prominent since her supporting turn in “Deadpool 2” (2016), does not have much to do either, and Brad William Henke manages to leave some impression as a small but crucial supporting character in the film.

On the whole, “Wounds” initially looks intriguing with elements evoking the works of H.P. Lovecraft as well as those body horror movies by David Cronenberg, but it ultimately fizzles as failing to engage us enough, and it is a major letdown compared to Anvari’s debut feature film “Under the Shadow” (2016), which is, in my inconsequential opinion, one of more impressive horror films during this decade. Unlike “Wounds”, that film really intrigued me and then terrified me while quite admirable in many aspects, and I am certainly willing to recommend you to watch it now instead.

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