By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Armie Hammer, Zazie Beets, Dakota Fanning
Directed by Babak Anvari
Written by Babak Anvari, Nathan Ballingrud
Produced by Annapurna Pictures, Two & Two Pictures, AZA Films
Have you seen Monsterland yet?
If you have, you might have an idea of what to expect watching WOUNDS. I say that because both projects were based off the same author’s work (Nathan Ballingrud, a phenomenal writer who EVERYBODY should read), and because both feature the supernatural but primarily focus on the horrors of which we are capable. Ballingrud has a tendency to focus on the dark places that humans can be driven to, the horrifying acts of which we’re capable when pushed to the right places, and the monsters are both the instigators of and partners in those acts. From what I’ve seen of his work so far (because yes, I too have to finish binging Monsterland, leave me alone), it’s nihilistic, character driven, and deeply, deeply depressing. As a result, whether you like WOUNDS, honestly, will depend on what you’re looking for.
“WOUNDS is ultimately far tamer than it could have been, with it’s reservation rendering it far too forgettable for most viewers.”
WOUNDS is a bit of a slow burn that follows the life of our main character and bartender Will (Armie Hammer) as he fucks up every single good thing he has and drives himself further and further into the arms of some Lovecraftian demon. Truthfully, nothing Will has is that great from the start: him and his girlfriend (Dakota Fanning) both spend inordinate amounts of time suspecting one another of cheating and checking on one another, the girl he actually likes (Zazie Beets) is dating someone else, and everyone else he associates with either has a confederate or blue lives matter flag on their wall. And honestly? This is kind of the life that Will deserves. We get the inkling as we watch that he’s kind of an asshole, and as the events of the story unfold that inkling becomes a hunch, and that hunch becomes… well, a certified fact. His girlfriend makes several poignant observations about him, saying he looks normal on the outside but on the inside he’s all worms and that he’s a “mock person,” and we get the sense that she’s right even before he tells us so; cockroaches recur frequently throughout the film, hanging around characters (like Will) as they fester and rot beneath the veneer of normalcy that they’ve carefully constructed. You get the sense that some of these characters are cockroaches themselves, scuttling about and scavenging what they can to feed themselves, moving from meal to meal without conscience. I’d like to say that’s Ballingrud’s vision of humanity, but not all of his characters share the same fate; some escape the cockroaches in their lives before the credits roll, leaving them to fester and spread disease.
WOUNDS comes off, therefore, like a longform episode of Monsterland, portraying the particular pain of it’s protagonist and taking him to a fitting conclusion. I would talk some more about the Lovecraftian aspect, but it’s honestly treated as ancillary; you’ll never get any answers as to who is in the cult, why they summoned the demon, why its decided to target the main character (It’s because you were there, Brewster), or anything whatsoever about the creature itself and what it wants. This Lovecraftian force is just the literalization of his own corruption, without unique character or much that’s truly noteworthy. Scares are few and far between, with a couple of frightening images that look like they’ve been ripped from the game Simulacra making up most of the film’s frightening effort. The film does take kind of a half assed psychological turn from it’s second half on, but since we know the demon exists and it’s not just in Will’s mind, it doesn’t really have an effect on the audience. The only part of this film that was remotely scary to me was the very end, and I wish the film had gotten Will to that breaking point sooner. Speaking of the breaking point, I felt like the transition from Will being mad at the world because he lost at everything to his ultimate surrender to the being was abrupt and a touch out of character. It’s like a switch flipped in his brain, and it was such an abrupt shift in his perspective that I mentally said “Okay, that was clearly supposed to happen, but also why did that just happen? Why the hell would he do that?”
I don’t know, I wanted to like WOUNDS a lot more than I did. I can see ways in which others would really enjoy this film, but to me it was a little short on suspense. I walked away from this film knowing that I would forget most of what happened in it by the time this article actually went up, wishing that it had been less reserved and taken things further. If the film had just been a bit more batshit in its second half as the creature got more involved in Will’s life, or if it had pushed WILL to a truly horrific act near the films end instead of the relatively tame climax WOUNDS provided, it might have been a more memorable watch. But WOUNDS will likely not make much of a mark as is.
I’m giving it a 5. If you enjoyed Monsterland, check it out. But if psychological horror and character driven slow-burns aren’t your thing, well, maybe it’s best to avoid this particular vision of hell.