Wounds are bloody voids surrounded by torn and ruined flesh, an empty space that serves as a reminder of pain, no matter how brief. That emptiness may seem trivial, but in Babak Anvari’s (Under the Shadow) film, literally named Wounds, injuries serve a higher purpose. Based on Nathan Billingrud’s short story “The Visible Filth,” Wounds is an existential piece of body horror that is full of pus, grime, and bugs.
Will (Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name) is a bartender at Rosie’s, a dirty dive bar in New Orleans. At night he shoots back whiskey, tends bar, and flirts with his best friend Alicia (Zazie Beetz, Joker). During the day, he nurses beers and snaps at his girlfriend Carrie (Dakota Johnson, Suspiria). Will drifts through life on a wave of liquor and caffeine, content to spend his nights with boozehounds and his days on the couch. However, this all changes after a group of college kids leave a cell phone at the bar.
“Wounds is an existential piece of body horror that is full of pus, grime, and bugs.”
While the phone covered in heart stickers seems innocuous at first, it’s soon revealed to be a cursed object. It contains photos and video of a dead body with three books titled, The Translation of Wounds, in the background. After looking at these digital horrors, Will and Carrie rapidly begin to change, becoming obsessed with the footage. Will hallucinates horrific images full of blood and bugs. Carrie becomes entranced with a video of a long black tunnel. Something awaits them just under the surface, twitching and moving under their flesh.
Wounds is gross, which is expected from a film with such a name. Roaches skitter over floors and into cabinets as reminders of the grime that covers every surface of the film. They are, in fact, living examples of visible filth. But roaches aren’t the only markers of film. Sweat stains Will’s shirts, creating rings of moisture around his neck and armpits that you can practically smell. This is a film that wants to engage all of the senses, from scent to taste to touch. Everything about Wounds is designed to make the viewer want to crawl out of their skin.
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In terms of adapting Billingrud’s source material, Anvari glued himself to the short story to create an extremely faithful adaptation that unfortunately doesn’t pack as strong a punch. Billingrud’s stories are introspective pieces that delve into his central character’s psyche, probing the darkest corners of their brain and exposing evil truths they try to bury. Anvari’s characters, on the other hand, seem rather shallow, especially in their interactions. Hammer and Johnson have little chemistry so their arguments, taken right out of “The Visible Filth,” feel robotic and unemotional.
But, when he is alone on camera, Armie Hammer shines as the slowly disintegrating Will whose humanity begins to seep out of his pores like his booze-filled sweat. Fear looks good on Hammer as his typical calm and cool exterior is wiped away and replaced with animalistic survival instincts. His hot-boy swagger doesn’t help him for long as technological horrors break down whatever ego Will has left. He himself becomes a walking wound, an empty void that must be filled with something. And that something is an ancient malicious evil.
“[..] designed to make the viewer want to crawl out of their skin.”
Similar to works of J-horror like Pulse (1988), technology is a new source of evil, a way for curses and rituals to spread like viruses into more weak, or open, minds. Cellphones are vehicles for Wounds’ evil and dark parts of the Internet house strange tunnels with little to no explanation. This lack of context may frustrate some, but it lends to a sense of anonymity and fear that, frankly, everyone should have when logging on. In Wounds’ case, though, such a critique is a little lost in translation. Instead, the film focuses on the more tangible aspects, like cockroaches crawling out of rashes.
Underneath the body horror, Wounds is also a love letter to New Orleans. Rosie’s was shot in Le Bon Temps Rouler, a NOLA staple that’s open 24 hours. Will is shown chowing down on a muffuletta sandwich from the iconic Central Grocery. Shotgun houses with their tall narrow windows dominate the landscape. All of Billingrud’s work serves as a tribute to the Gulf Coast and the people who call it home and Anvari respects that with every shot.
While Wounds stumbles with its dialogue and attempts to critique the idea of technological virality, Anvari still creates a haunting film that will fester and itch. Hammer’s unhinged performance paired with the stench of blood and sweat makes this an admirable adaptation of stellar source material. No antibiotics will cure the infection Wounds will deliver into your brain.
Wounds is now available on Hulu. Have you seen Wounds yet? Have you read any of Billingrud’s short stories? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!