A fair and necessary warning: this film is not for the faint of heart.
Written and directed by Babak Anvari (Under the Shadow), WOUNDS is an adaptation of Nathan Ballingrud’s novella The Visible Filth. The film begins in a bar in New Orleans and quickly introduces the primary cast of characters. We have Will (played by Armie Hammer), the bartender and our main guy, his ex-girlfriend-turned-friend Alicia (Zazie Beetz), and her new beau Jeffrey (Karl Glusman). We also meet Eric (Brad William Henke), a military veteran and regular at the bar (he lives in the apartment upstairs), and we later meet Will’s current live-in girlfriend Carrie (Dakota Johnson). A gruesome fight breaks out in the bar and Eric’s face is slashed with a broken bottle; the incident is filmed by a group of college students, one of whom leaves their phone in the bar. Will brings it home with him.
Things quickly descend into utter chaos.
Someone starts to send threatening messages and disturbing photos to the deserted phone. After Will and Carrie see them, both of them start to experience horrifying visions and personality changes. Their bond becomes fractured; Will also ruins his friendship with Alicia and Jeffrey. Meanwhile, Eric’s condition worsens—the open wound on his face becomes so infected that he can’t leave his house.
Carrie, a PhD student, discovers the truth about the text messages and photos. But it’s too late. She and Will have contracted some supernatural virus—or maybe a curse—and now there’s no hope for either of them.
WOUNDS is a true horror movie. It has engaging characters, terrifying visual effects, and a plot that burrows under your skin and leaves you feeling unsettled long after the credits roll. At its core, WOUNDS is about human cruelty, the disintegration of relationships, and how quickly one can descend into madness and obsession. It’s one of those movies that makes you curl tightly into yourself, eyes wide open, transfixed at the insanity you’re bearing witness to, and say out loud “What the fuck?”
The acting—by everyone in the cast—was fantastic. Hammer and Johnson hold their own and play off each other in a way that is both engrossing and painful. And Henke, although playing a smaller role in comparison, elicits both sympathy and disgust in his role as an unwitting conduit for dark forces. Beetz and Glusman are equally strong cast members who support Hammer’s performance as a man losing his mind.
The film stitches together the genres of body and supernatural horror in a way that left me truly rattled. As a movie, it was great. As a novella-to-film adaptation, WOUNDS was phenomenal. Anvari absolutely nailed it, which hopefully will lead more people to the original work. To me, The Visible Filth is a bit reminiscent of Kathe Koja’s novel The Cipher (side note: that book is a must-read for every horror fan). It’s a grotesque story carried by deliberate and intricate prose.
WOUNDS is available to watch on Hulu and I can’t recommend it, or The Visible Filth, enough.