One of the Sundance movies from this year’s midnight slate that shocked audiences was Babak Anvari’s Wounds. Based on the novella The Visible Filth by Nathan Ballingrud, the film follows New Orleans bartender Will (Armie Hammer), who has been enjoying the “Big Easy” life as he tends to drinks, breaks up barroom brawls, and has a loving girlfriend named Carrie (Dakota Johnson) waiting for him at home. But when a group of college kids leave behind a phone at the bar after a rowdy night, Will finds himself in the middle of a series of strange occurrences through the device. Where Wounds heads from there is absolutely riveting and wickedly bizarre, and the less I say about it, the better.

While at Sundance, Daily Dead shared a quick chat with Anvari about the source material for Wounds, and he discussed why he chose the novella as his next film project, the allure of crafting psychological horror, and how great it felt to return to Sundance three years after celebrating the world premiere of his debut feature, Under the Shadow, at the fest.

So great to speak with you again, Babak, and congratulations on returning to Sundance. I’d love to start off by discussing what it was about this story and this material in particular that you connected with, where you realized this was a movie you needed to make?

Babak Anvari: So, after Under the Shadow, I was looking for my next project and I had a few different potential projects set up here and there. But then my producers sent me this novella by Nathan Ballingrud, and they said, "I think you're going to find this interesting." I read it and I realized they were not wrong at all [laughs].

I fell in love with it mainly, and I immediately knew how to turn it into a film because I just felt like it was a great companion film to Under the Shadow. It's almost like a follow-up to it, because there’s this psychological aspect that they both share. Where they differ is that Under the Shadow is just about this woman who faces her nightmares and has to save herself and her child, but Wounds is about this man who has a very shallow existence, and then this supernatural thing suddenly enters his life that's beyond his understanding and forces him to expose himself to who he truly is. So, exploring that immediately felt interesting to me as a follow-up project.

You mentioned the psychological ideas in both of these films. From your perspective, what is it about these types of stories that resonates with you as a storyteller?

Babak Anvari: I think basically one of the most interesting things for me to watch is a very flawed character who is at the center of the movie, and you can’t help but go on this journey with them, whether it’s an ascension or a descent into someplace terrible. Because we're all flawed human beings in one degree or another, even though the stories are set in the genre space, there's still something really grounded and relatable and real and authentic to both of these films I’ve made that really excites me.

It's just that idea of such a normal human being, an ordinary person that you might see in everyday life, and then jumping into this crazy world—it’s easy to put yourself into their shoes, right? That’s what drama really is about, isn't it? Putting a character in a situation that they either find out a lot about themselves, rediscover themselves, or they end up having a tragic sort of outcome. In a weird way, I think this film is a tragedy, but it just happens to be set in a genre movie with a lot of cockroaches and other weird stuff.

You had Under the Shadow here at Sundance a few years ago, and you were able to come back this year with Wounds. That’s pretty awesome. How incredible does that feel for you in such a short span of time, and so early on in your career?

Babak Anvari: It’s crazy, right? I cannot describe how excited I was when we found out that Wounds was going to be shown at Sundance. Sundance means so much to me, because it feels like my career started here with Under the Shadow. That was its premiere, and in some ways, it was the premiere of me, too, so it just felt incredible that we would get to be coming back. It feels like I'm almost back at home, if that makes sense. It’s just lovely, and I’m so grateful.


Want to read other interviews, reviews, and news from Sundance? Check here to read all of Daily Dead's live coverage of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival!

[Photo credit: Above photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.]

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.