Haunted mobiles are nothing new for the horror genre. But in the hands of Babak Anvari, the Iranian-British director behind 2016 gem Under The Shadow, you might think twice about sleeping next to your omnipresent black slab every night. A Lovecraftian body horror inspired by the likes of David Cronenberg, David Lynch and Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, Wounds is an effective scalp-prickler, albeit a step down from Anvari’s superb Iranian debut.
Armie Hammer stars as Will, a college dropout making a living as a New Orleans bartender. One night a vicious fight breaks out, leaving one man with a hole in the side of his face, and one underage patron minus a phone, which Will retrieves off the floor. Bad idea, because Will starts to receive a series of unnerving messages about ancient books and unholy rituals. The next thing you know, Will’s seeing cockroaches everywhere, while his girlfriend Carrie (Dakota Johnson) starts to behave rather strangely.
Like all good Lovecraftian stories, Will is an unwilling participant in a tale going on three feet to the left of him before being dragged into events beyond his comprehension. There are hints that the mythology of this world runs much deeper than what’s seen on screen, but these unanswered questions work in its favour as it’s a film where the fear often lies in the unknown. Anvari hasn’t lost any ability to unnerve in the move to America, either. The scares here are often less organic, less well-earned than Under The Shadow (a random insert of a very noisy air conditioning unit is a typical example), but the results are undeniably effective, not least because the startlingly violent opening leaves you on edge throughout.
Under a Shadow
As well as home-invading djinns, Under The Shadow was a film with a rich sociopolitical subtext, and there’s a less successful attempt to make Wounds about something more than interdimensional Eldtrich abominations. Hammer’s Will is on a self-destructive path that is only accelerated by his increasingly traumatising visions, not caused by them. His relationship to Carrie is crumbling, he’s barely hiding his feelings for college friend Alicia (Deadpool 2’s Zazie Beetz), despite the fact she has a loving boyfriend, and his pent-up insecurity has led him to all but give up on pursuing a career beyond the bar. It’s never all that satisfying thematically, but it’s something to get your teeth into.
Hammer makes a good fist of Will, a man who hides his rotten core behind a charming exterior. Some of the more theatrical freakouts are beyond him, but he successfully sells Will’s plunge off the deep end. The supporting cast, however, are criminally under-utilised, both Carrie and Alicia afforded little internal life beyond their connection to Will. But the most obvious shortcoming is the source material. It’s been adapted from a short story by Nathan Ballingrud, and you can tell, the plot ultimately too thin to justify even its brief 96-minute runtime.
Still, by the memorably demented finale, which brings the film full circle in a satisfying and wildly unexpected way, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear.
For more coverage from Cannes 2019 read our review of Bong Joon-ho’s brilliant Parasite.