After the accomplished slow-burn horror of Under The Shadow, director Babak Anvari, claws his way through a grotesque body horror that pays disturbing homage to David Cronenberg, David Lynch and Nic Roeg. Armie Hammer stars as a New Orleans bartender named Will who spends his time procrastinating in the dirty little dive bar where he works and ignoring the fact that his relationship with long-term partner Carrie (Dakota Johnson) is on the rocks.
Based on the novella by Nathan Ballingrud, The Visible Filth, from an anthology Wounds: Six Stories From The Border Of Hell, Anvari translates the grime from the text into visually repulsive terror. Working closely with special makeup effects artist Tony Gardner (Nightbreed) to craft severed heads and bloody mayhem the images become a conduit for the hell Will himself has created through his alcoholism, addiction and arrogance. Will is truly a gross and irredeemable character who seems gleefully happy soaking up his booze-stained sin.
There’s lots to wade through in this excitable love letter to the extreme, where cockroaches and fleshy mobile phones pop up randomly as gory jump scares. There’s also an overwhelming amount of visuals to interpret, which in hindsight plays in well to the idea that anyone can view huge amounts of violence through tiny smart-phone screens and that in turn can dangerously impact mental health. If this is Anvari’s Videodrome then it suggests that mobile phones and social media are the new flesh and have the ability to attack not only our senses but impact real life in dangerous ways.
In the wake of Will’s destructive behaviour not all the ideas tie together, with the film touching upon racism and white privilege without ever working through the themes to satisfying ends. Still the location shooting in New Orleans adds an extra layer to this horror that plays out like Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly meets William Friedkin’s Bug in the way it has an undeniable ability to dig deep under the skin. It’s uncomfortable and confrontational even after it starts to throw everything at the wall.
Wounds was seen and reviewed at Cannes Film Festival 2019.