Film Review | Wounds: Crawling under the skin

British-Iranian director Babak Anvari makes good on the promise shown in his debut feature Under the Shadow with his finely crafted take on Nathan Ballingrud’s novella The Visible Filth

It’s heartening to see the work of American indie horror author Nathan Ballingrud finally begin to receive the mainstream recognition that it well and truly deserves. Having emerged on the short fiction scene in the early noughties, he released a staggering collection in 2013: North American Lake Monsters, whose TV adaptation is also currently set for production.

While his ties to the horror genre are both learned and passionately expressed, his work stands out for the literary polish and finely tuned pathos that they are marinated in; to say nothing of the genuinely felt tapping into the vagaries of working class life that they also draw from.

This marrying together of the grimy with the lyrically beautiful is also evident in his novella ‘The Visible Filth’, first published in 2015 by This is Horror in a now out-of-print edition, and subsequently included in his latest collection, titled ‘Wounds’ to go along with Under the Shadow director Babak Anvari’s title for his adaptation of the novella, which has now reached international audiences through Netflix.

With a script also penned by Anvari himself, Wounds cleaves very closely to the gross but pin-sharp shocker that is the source material, resulting in a hypnotic horror feature that eschews the jump scares in favour of deeper and queasier delights.

Will (Armie Hammer) tends bar at Rosie’s, a dive joint largely frequented by losers of every variety: from frustrated lovers to violent criminals, and the occasional group of trendy teenagers who drop in not knowing what to expect.

One such group steps in on the night that Rosie’s regular Eric (Brad William Henke) ends up getting his face slashed open with a broken bottle after a drunken fight, with one of their number leaving their mobile phone behind amidst the chaos.

Will takes the phone home, awkwardly explaining its origins to a mistrustful girlfriend, the literary grad student Carrie (Dakota Johnson).
Successfully unlocking the device, Will is both disturbed and intrigued by the panicked incoming messages. But his more immediate concern is bedding Alicia (Zazie Beetz), who regularly visits the bar with a new boyfriend, Jeffrey (Karl Glusman) whose naivete she acknowledges but whom she’s very much eager to keep.

So, we’ve got a fine set of hardly-likeable characters stacked against an ineffably sublime malevolent force that begins to manifest itself once the threat lurking behind the lost mobile phone grows un-ignorable for Will.

It’s a tight concept that is beautifully expounded upon in Ballingrud’s novella, whose poetic descriptions of the cockroach-infested bar and the amoral weaving of Will’s desire lines do lose something in what is an otherwise visually too-sleek of a production.

But what it loses in mundane atmosphere, it very much gains in clearly calculated dread.

Expertly juggling both the domestic drama of Will and Carrie’s disintegrating relationship and the supernatural threat that lies right behind them, Anvari does good on the promise shown in Under the Shadow (2016) by amplifying a sense of threat lurking in even the most basic of indoor settings. He certainly does not walk the path of least resistance: beautiful sunlight bathes its way into most scenes, making the horror even more of an uncomfortable intrusion.

This is a film that will not appeal to anyone even remotely uncomfortable with cockroaches: so fair warning to all you roach-phobes out there.
Neither will it play too well for those needing a clear-cut explanation to the weird goings on that would in a more conventioanlly-crafted feature be explained away towards the end. But for those who have outgrown jump-scares and like the horror on offer to really get under their skin, Netflix has left you something truly creepy that should survive long after the Halloween celebrations have rung for their last trick or treat session of the year.

The verdict

Boldly sticking to the source material’s conviction, Wounds takes us through a wringer with an utterly unlikeable protagonist leading the way; a bold proposition that weirdly makes the ride just that little bit more compelling. Impeccably disturbing from start to finish, this is well-crafted post-Halloween entertainment that doesn’t skimp on the thrills.

Wounds is currently streaming on Netflix