Sundance 2019: Wounds, by David Bax
For the most part, anyone who’s squeamish will probably instinctively avoid a horror movie called Wounds. A further warning is probably in order, though, for those who get icked out by bugs, especially cockroaches, of which the movie features approximately one million. But if you skip Babak Anvari’s Wounds for any of these reasons, you’ll be missing out on a movie that’s not only sublimely creepy but rich of character and depth.
Armie Hammer stars as Will, a charismatic but unmotivated New Orleans bartender. We meet him on a quiet night at work, doing card tricks for regular Alicia (Zazie Beetz) and her new boyfriend Jeffrey (Karl Glusman) and pouring shots for Eric (Brad William Henke), an oil rig worker who lives above the bar and spends the majority of his onshore time drunk. A few more people trickle in, including a group of college kids and someone who appears at first to be a friend of Eric’s. When he and Eric get into a brutal barfight, though, the college kids scram, one of them leaving behind their phone. When Will brings the phone home, he and his girlfriend, Carrie (Dakota Johnson), begin receiving disturbing messages on it.
Anvari has a good sense for New Orleans color (even if he’s content to jump from neighborhood to neighborhood within scenes). It’s an obvious choice to start the movie with a Dr. John song but he gets more specific from there, with touches like the Mardi Gras masks hanging on the wall of Will and Carrie’s bedroom.
Another thing he gets right, of course, is that New Orleans is the country’s greatest drinking town. Will and Alicia both seem to be alcoholics, though, in NOLA, it’s not always so easy to tell. The judgment-free ability to have a beer in public at 10 in the morning is just a metaphor for the ease with which shitty people get away with being shitty. In addition to being a drunk, Will’s also a misogynist (words like “chick” and “pussy” pepper his speech). Eric, meanwhile, hangs a Confederate flag in his bedroom. Nearly every character, in fact, has at least one major character flaw, from Carrie’s selfishness to Jeffrey’s jealousy.
All of them seem perfectly able to continue through life with their defects (or bugs, if you will) unexamined. Until, that is, freaky shit starts happening to them. And it is indeed freaky. Wounds teases the viewer early on with some cheap jump scares but those are just primers for the deeply weird, shiver-inducing, otherworldly terror of the fates that slowly befall Will and Carrie. So, consider yourself warned. But also consider Wounds highly recommended.
For those curious, the director’s full name is Babak Anvari, and he also directed Under the Shadow.