Released: 18th October
Seen: 26th October
The end of October is a great time to put out every horror movie, no matter what the content or style is. It’s a time when the slashers, the zombies, the vampires and just the flat out weird as hell horror films have their time in the sun. You could release pretty much anything horror related during October and it’d be appropriate. You can release great horror films and even awful horror films, bad movie nights are a thing and a bad horror movie around Halloween is a gift for people wanting something gloriously stupid to laugh at… and then there’s Wounds, a bland horror movie that tries its hardest to be creepy and weird and never fully gets there, though not for a lack of trying.
Set in a disgusting dive bar that’s so covered in cockroaches that it’s amazing anyone even turns up, we meet a lowly bartender named Will (Armie Hammer). Will is your prototypical movie version of 30 something working-class man, the kind who drives a pickup truck even though he has a customer service job that somehow supports him and his girlfriend Carrie (Dakota Johnson). He’s the kind of cinematic 30 something who will say “Fuckin’ Millenials” unironically even though he is one (Fun fact, if you were born after 81, you are a millennial so please stop being very stupid and using millennial as an insult). He’s the kind of cinematic 30 something who has a girlfriend and a job, two things that are insanely hard to get, and appreciates neither of them because he’s constantly hitting on the already taken Alicia (Zazie Beetz). We’re also meant to like this character and in some way root for him when he finds a cell phone that was left behind by some college kids at a bar and everything goes swiftly downhill for him.
This story is based on the novella ‘The Visible Filth’ and I have to assume that it works better there because it just doesn’t work as a film. The idea is certainly solid, a guy living his normal life finds a phone that slowly devastates his life. There’s a potential for some social commentary there, the nature of how our cell phone use shuts us off from the world and the overwhelming negativity that comes through the black mirror that we hold in our hands all the time… but doing that would require thought and this film didn’t have time for that. It does try to link his downfall with alcohol by basically having the character being stunningly drunk for the entire film, except that link doesn’t work because it’s basically implied he’s always been a bit of a heavy drinker and there’s no real reason everything would suddenly escalate now except for the phone… which is poorly explained and never utilised well at all.
I’m not going to pretend there aren’t some genuinely tense moments with this film because it has some parts that got a little jump out of me. Part of the plot has Will searching through the photos on the phone and he finds a severed head, something that could lead to something interesting where the owner of the phone is doing evil things but… no, no it just doesn’t. The kids are clearly doing something messed up and evil but once they’ve served their purpose and dropped the phone off, we never hear from them again. I’m sure the characters have names and actors who played them but I’ll be damned if I know who any of them were meant to be. Hell, earlier in this paragraph I wrote out the protagonist’s name and I had to look it up because it was so forgettable.
That’s kind of the big problem with this film, everything just feels forgettable which it really shouldn’t considering how it’s trying so hard to be weird and memorable. It tries to do a lot of quick jump scares, implying they’re hallucinations by the main character. Notably, there is a recurring image of decapitation where the two women in the main characters life appear to be beheaded in dreamlike images and it means nothing. You could cut out the entire section of the film about Carrie and Alicia and nothing changes. You wanna know the only things that end up mattering? Will, a guy named Eric (Brad William Henke) and a fight early on.
If you just take the scenes with Eric and sewed them together, you’d have a pretty impressive 20-30 minute short film about a guy getting in a fight, having his wound be infected and then the grand final image. However, this film isn’t a 30 minute short, it’s a 94 minute feature so the 60 minutes between the final two visits with the character that actually has some sort of relevance to the whole “Weird shit is happening” storyline is an hour of either random yelling, occasional jump scares or characters blankly staring at a screen with a tunnel on it… a tunnel that will end up meaning basically nothing. Sure it’s technically part of the insane explanation for the weird things going on that has to do with portals and rituals, you could undoubtedly spend hours examining this film and write a pretty fascinating thesis that would touch on topics from Gnosticism to the concept of self and that thesis would be great… the film itself? Pretentious as hell.
If you are one of those people who enjoyed mother!, something that put a desperate need for symbolic allegory over basic storytelling then sure this might work for you. I’m on the side of thinking that films that scream “I’m so smart, look at me, look at me” are just annoying. This film thinks it has something important to say but in reality, it says nothing. It gives hints of something interesting but it doesn’t go anywhere with it, in part thanks to the bland do-nothing characters and the oppressingly boring script. It wastes its cast who are so much better than this material and can do so much better… but no one’s doing anything great here. Chalk this one up to another misfire for Netflix, we’re having a lot of those lately.