Set in a grimy New Orleans bar over the course of several days, Annapurna and Hulu’s horror film asks: Is it better to let things lie?
In the film, Hammer is Will, a bartender who moves through life carelessly. Will relies on his good looks and charm to mask the fact that he may be — as one character calls him in the film — nothing more than a “mock person.” After a particularly intense bar fight breaks out while on watch, Will spots a lost iPhone. He picks it up, hoping to find the owner. Instead, he discovers the phone contains unspeakably violent and horrific images and videos. His once steady life, which includes a relationship with grad student Carrie (Dakota Johnson) and an unrequited crush on his coupled-up friend Alicia (Zazie Beetz), unravels quickly.
It becomes clear that a sinister supernatural force is coming for Will, but will he fight it off, or will he allow the wounds created by his privileged, careless life fester into something even darker?
Over the phone, Refinery29 spoke to Wounds writer-director Babak Anvari (Under the Shadow), who adapted the film from the novella The Visible Filth by Nathan Ballingrud, about the real horror of the movie which is, surprisingly, not the hundreds of roaches.
Refinery29: Many people called Midsommar a “breakup horror movie,” and Wounds could also be considered one given Will and Carrie’s relationship. Why do you think breakups are so ripe for horror?
Babak Anvari: Breakups are one of the most hurtful, emotionally damaging things that can happen in life. They are quite scary things. Sometimes you have to do it, and sometimes you have to go through it, but it’s not always easy. It’s a great thing to explore through the lens of horror. It’s funny you mention Midsommar, because a friend mentioned that we should do a double bill with Midsommar and Wounds because they’re both breakup horror films. When it comes to Wounds, Will doesn’t really find any redemption in the end, which was done on purpose. That was the journey of the character for me and for Armie Hammer.
Where do you think Hammer’s character Will fits into a conversation about toxic masculinity?
It was the intention [to explore that.] Will is a man who doesn’t take life seriously and feels really entitled. He has a healthy dose of toxic masculinity. He can get whatever he wants by skating on the surface of life. It was key to have the character be like that. Hammer is a very affable, charming man. You want to be Will’s friend, he’s this cool bartender at the bar. However, it’s all a mask. Inside, Will is hiding something really shallow and hollow. Once he comes across this cellphone, this charm drops. As his life turns upside down, that mask starts to slide off and he exposes his true self.
The cast [and crew] were mostly the same age, so we were talking about how the film is also about the insecurities and questions we have in life in our late 20s and 30s. Who am I? Am I happy? You try to fool yourself into thinking you’re happy, but there are all these dilemmas and questions we were trying to explore.
What was Armie’s reaction to taking on such a dark role?
Armie is an amazing human being as well as an actor. He constantly likes to push and challenge himself. He was the first actor I met for this role, and it was right around the same time Call Me By Your Name came out. I called him and said ‘I have this project but I don’t know if you’re going to want to do it because you just made this sweet, emotional film. This is a crazy ride.’ I sent it to him and 48 hours later, he sent me an email that was like ‘Dude, you’re fucked in the head. I’m in.’ We started having conversations about it, and Armie really wanted to explore this character. The Will you see in the beginning of the film, and the Will you see at the end, you should feel different about him. I thought Armie did an amazing job mapping that arc.
There’s a confederate flag in the background of Eric’s (Brad William Henke) apartment. Was there a reason for that?
That came from a conversation with Brad, who plays Eric, and the production designer. The confederate flag symbolises certain things. This man, Eric, he is so lonely and isolated that he is full of rage. He tries to find an excuse, somewhere to let out that rage. He thinks in a very tribal way, in a ‘me against the other’ way. That flag was part of that world we created for him. It was really interesting to me that Will gets to Eric, and that point of contact makes you wonder — is this Will’s future? He’s pushed everyone away and has this built-up rage. In our head, there was some meaning behind the flag.
The end of the film is fairly ambiguous. What is your interpretation of it?
The ending has been very polarising for people! I hope it’s a conversation starter. The ending was the number one thing in my original pitch. I wanted to end it where I did because this is a story about how a person gets to this point [in his life,] not what happens afterwards. Not to spoil it too much, but Will gets to the point in his life where he is so lost and confused. He’s pushed away everyone who has ever cared about him. He doesn’t know where he is anymore in life. He decides to dive into something he doesn’t really understand, this force he doesn’t get. He wants something to define him and his existence. These insecurities in your 30s and late 20s, it can put people on weird paths. You’re so lost that you try to latch onto something that gives meaning to your life. Whether that’s alcohol or drugs or joining a cult or a hate group, I think that all comes from a place of fear and anxiety.
Before you made Wounds, you made the 2016 film Under the Shadow, about a family haunted by a supernatural force in post-revolutionary Tehran. What makes horror an interesting genre to explore?
Horror is one of the coolest genres ever. I love it. We’re in a golden age of horror right now, but there’s been a lot of [snobbery] around it. A lot of people don’t take horror seriously, and see it just as a thrill ride. For me, it’s an amazing genre to explore themes and allegory without being too on-the-nose, kind of like sci-fi. As a storyteller, it gives you an ability to do that.
Wounds is available on Netflix from 18th October