“Wounds” is not a great film, but it was a few steps from greatness. Sadly, it relies heavily on genre tropes and squanders its compelling premise.
Rarely do I watch a film and dismiss it out of hand as bad. More often than not, it’s less about what a film does wrong and more about the missed opportunities to do so much right. It’s in this spirit that I review Netflix’s Wounds, a film I didn’t love but can’t stop thinking about.
The strength of the movie lies within its theme. Wounds focuses on toxic masculinity and the way that it manifests in the lives of men.
It follows the story of Will, a mid-30s bartender with no greater aspirations. After a brutal bar fight, Will finds a phone that was left behind by a group of teenagers. After scrolling through the phone, he stumbles upon some demonic shenanigans (technically Gnostic). Chaos ensues as he and his girlfriend start to be attacked by malevolent forces and teenagers, which, it could be argued, are the same thing. His sanity slowly drains as his relationships with everyone around him begin to crumble.
In Wounds, the demons act as a metaphor for toxic masculinity.
The catalyst of the film’s events is a fight, which Will’s friend Eric gets into. The scrap leaves him with a nasty cut on his cheek, but he refuses to go see a doctor about it. The subtext is that he does both these things because he needs to present himself as strong. Society tells him that, to be a man, he can never look weak. In fact, throughout the film, all the male characters get into fights of one form or another, showing the audience how men who live by harmful attitudes about perceived masculinity not only hurt others but themselves as well.
This is most emphasized with Will and his journey. Instead of following a traditional tale of a hero overcoming his flaws, Will ends up succumbing to them. At the start of the movie, Will has a steady, if a bit stagnant, job and a decent relationship with his girlfriend, Carrie. Once he finds the phone, thus bringing the demons into his life, everything goes downhill. Will and Carrie grow more distant and increasingly aggressive towards each other. He constantly hides things from Carrie and isn’t emotionally open with her. This distance results in Will cheating on her with his best friend, another woman.
His aggression only escalates as he starts to experience grotesque hallucinations. He gets violent with people and even snaps at his boss and quits his job. As he cuts himself off from everyone, a “wound” is created that refuses to heal — much like the cut on Eric’s cheek.
Wounds’ theme and grotesque visuals are the film’s strongest elements.
I respect it for tackling such a nuanced problem, but it comes at a cost.
When making a horror movie, it is usually best to make at least one character, ideally the main character, likable to some degree. When the scary stuff starts to go down, audiences need someone to root for, and they need to be invested in what happens to the characters. That is where most of the tension of horror movies lies. If people don’t care, they aren’t as likely to get scared.
Wounds suffers in this regard because Will isn’t likable at all. Even at the start of the movie, he comes off as jealous and possessive, with the charisma of a brick. This is most unfortunate because, if Will was a likable character, it would help strengthen the message. We could then view Wounds as a tragedy — one where we watch a good man fall from grace as a way to show how anyone, even the best of us, can fall into the trappings of toxic masculinity.
The other characters don’t give us anything of substance either.
For the most part, the supporting cast of characters ends up either being quite flat or completely irrelevant. When Wounds gets dark and scary music starts playing, the audience isn’t invested. If any of these characters die, so what?
Ultimately, Wounds just checks the boxes for a formulaic horror movie: creepy phone calls, hallucinations, some sacrificial shenanigans, figures hidden in shadows, and creepy walk arounds in the dark. This all leaves the film feeling boring and predictable. This dependency on tired tropes is often a death sentence for most horror movies. In fact, the only time the movie gets some juice in its veins is at the end. But, by then, it’s far too little too late.
I really did want to like this movie. The idea of exploring what happens when toxic traits overtake a person was one I found very intriguing. Sadly, the smart concept was lost inside an unsatisfying, run-of-the-mill horror that fails more, not because of what it is, but because of what it had the potential to be.