Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Sundance ’19: Wounds

Being a bartender in New Orleans, Will has seen a thing or two in his day, but even by his standards, things are about to get ridiculous. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of Cajun or Creole recipes for cockroach, because his troubles start with an infestation issues and mushroom from there in director-screenwriter Babak Anvari’s Wounds, which screens during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Will enjoys being a perennially-buzzed under-achiever, even though it is starting to lose its charm for his current girlfriend, Carrie, just like it did for Alicia, the one before her, whom he is still hung up on. One rowdy night at the bar, a group of creepy Millennials leaves behind a cell phone that starts displaying some alarming text messages. When Will cracks the code, he finds some disturbingly violent images inside. He tries to shrug it off, but the mysterious black car following him really amps up his paranoia. It also seems to be somehow related to the cockroaches increasingly swarming in the bar or his apartment (or so we assume, Anvari never really closes the narrative loop on the roaches).

In some ways, Wounds would make a fitting companion film with Guadagnino’s reconceived/remade/reconfigured Suspiria, for reasons beyond Dakota Johnson’s appearance in both. Ostensibly, the two films blend body horror with some mysterious form of ancient occult evil, but they are really more interesting in smearing outrageously over-the-top lunacy all over the screen.

You just have to either accept Wounds’ madness or call it a day, but it arguably works on its own level, thanks to the game work of Armie Hammer, Zazie Beetz, and Karl Glusman. They keep it all barreling along with their energy as Will, Alicia, and her new boyfriend, Jeffrey. Plus, Brad William Henke is a spectacular mess playing Eric, Will’s beer-muscled, meathead customer.

Wounds is distinctive in its way, but it is bound to disappoint fans of his first film, Under the Shadow, because it lacks similar depth and emotional complexity. Yet, he still manages to maintain an eerie atmosphere of foreboding, at least for most of the time. To Anvari’s credit, he also conveys a decent sense of the city of New Orleans (at one point, Will buys what we assume is a muffuletta to eat down by the river—and of course, Dixie is his beer of choice).

Wounds is the sort of film you keep watching if only to see if it can keep the nuttiness going, which it does. Nobody can make a steady diet of that flavor of cinema, but if you enjoyed debating Suspiria (and to a lesser extent, Hereditary) than Wounds should be on your dance card. You know who you are. Recommended accordingly, Wounds screens again today (1/30) and Saturday (2/2) in Park City and Friday (2/1) in Salt Lake, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.