It starts with an innocent-looking cellphone in a yellow case with pink heart stickers. Innocent-looking. But that little device, which is the centerpiece of the movie “Wounds,” is more potent than you might imagine.
The same is true of the giant, high-speed, Southern-style flying cockroaches that pervade this film, which begins streaming Friday on Hulu. If you’ve seen these monsters, you know to fear them the moment the first one appears, scuttling up a bottle at the New Orleans dive where Will (Armie Hammer) tends bar at night.
It is there, a bar called Rosie’s, that Will finds and pockets the phone, fished from among the shards of glass left after a brawl.
Some puzzling, even chilling texts pop in, and he feels compelled to answer. Then he is invited to see the “pretty pictures,” photos of dead bodies and worse. When his girlfriend, Carrie (Dakota Johnson), notices his absorption with the phone, he tries to explain it away.
But the more he sees, the more the normally affable Will suffers inside, his civility giving way to confused rage. Hammer maneuvers his character nimbly as Will skates on the edge of reality, lapsing into hallucinations or fugue states — or something more sinister. Carrie, a college student, gets drawn in, too, and not in a healthy way. The idea of the phone as a place where technology and the otherworldly meet attracts the researcher in her.
Just bear in mind that Carrie is writing a paper on T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.” And “Wounds” begins with an epigraph from “Heart of Darkness” about a man who is “hollow at the core.”
When Will swaggers into Rosie’s by day, showing his boss (Rosie, of course) his increasingly uncontrolled fury, she asks, “What’s gotten into you?”
It’s regrettable that the writer-director Babak Anvari didn’t draw on the rich history of the occult in New Orleans to add texture to his film. Nor did he drench it in New Orleans music or local accents. There’s not even a single beignet (but there is a pool-playing naked woman at Rosie’s). “Wounds” was filmed on location, but we catch only glimpses of the city and scarcely feel the heat. It could be anywhere. Anywhere with extra-large roaches, that is.
The lack of local color notwithstanding, the movie more than fulfills its promise to unsettle and to incite shivers — and it doesn’t quit.
Rated R for gaping wounds, violence and brief nudity. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes.