Babak Anvari’s “Wounds” is a movie that tries to toss so many things at its audience, both shockingly surreal and bewilderingly flat, that it ends up crash-landing very early into its running time. Anvari gave us the excellent Iranian-horror allegory “Under the Shadow,” back in 2016 but this sophomore effort, having him shoot in America and in English for the first time, is a mess.
As I sat in my seat at the Library theater this past January, at the film’s Sundance world premiere, I did not expect to watch a film featuring thousands of cockroaches, an obsessive reliance on shots of gashes and dismembered heads, lots of them. If Anvari tried to scare us in subtle and atmospheric ways with his previous feature, this relationship-based psychodrama has a choppy reliance on jump-scares and body horror.
Ironically the opening scenes are the best part of the film as Armie Hammer’s Will, a New Orleans bartender, finds a cell phone left behind by a college kid that just took part in a bar fight. Will takes it home with him, and sends a heads-up text to the kid, but then he looks at the pictures … This envelops Will and girlfriend Carrie (Dakota Johnson) into a nightmarish world filled with strange texts, baffling imagery and creepy noises (cue in the jump scares). It’s not just Will, Carrie’s attempt at searching online about what she’s seeing has her discovering theories of using wounds to “transcend physical boundaries” and “connect with higher beings.” Or something like that.
The in-explainable is very much at the forefront of Anvari’s story, don’t expect a coherent ending here, but do expect viewers from exiting the theater in anger after the film’s confusingly bland final frame appears on-screen. The fact that Anvari decided to bank his second film on a killer cellphone should have already been cause for concern, despite Anvari staging the shocks rather well, but what exactly was the talented filmmaker trying to do here? If the earlier scenes give off a loose and extremely playable sense of a better movie that never was, the film ultimately turns into the kind of horror that irks both arthouse fans of the genre and mainstream audiences, I just can’t see any person warming up to “Wounds.” [C-]