Reviews Short Narrative

Wounded (2023) – 3 stars

Director: Aurora Sunn & Luke Furmage

Writer: Abbie Allen

Cast: Aurora Sunn, Jessie Dipper, Zayne Ellis, Philip Wheate, Aaron Liburd

Running time: 21mins

Horror is the go-to genre for independent filmmakers for a reason. Sometimes the things we find the most disturbing are the ones we cannot see. No cinematic audience was ever impressed by an explosion, or a car-chase or a gun-fight that happened out of shot – but plenty of people have left theatres terrified by films about threats they only ever caught a glimpse of.

Because of horror’s core themes being routed beyond the material realm, a little creative thinking means you can make an effective – even innovative – movie in the genre with a small crew, and an even smaller budget. That does not mean that simply turning up and playing the hits will guarantee success, though. As anyone who endured the increasingly grating boom of zombie films in the first two decades of this century will remember, the zombie productions which didn’t build themselves around a creative premise got stale, really fast.

The most frustrating thing about Wounded in that regard is that there is half a good film in there. It’s just buried under a horde of clichés and ill-conceived set-pieces, which only seem to be there to play to the expectations of genre-junkies.

This juxtaposition is established almost immediately. Lilith/Lily (Aurora Sunn) first hears about ‘riots’ via an implausibly honest news broadcast which interrupts music she was streaming via an Alexa pod. There were grounds for an interesting premise from the very beginning here.

What if our protagonist didn’t get the early warning about the “high volume of injury and death” sweeping the country, because she is no longer engaged with traditional media like TV or radio? Amid a fast-moving undead pandemic, there was potential for some real protracted tension as Lily worked things out for herself in real time – reminiscent of the early scenes of Shaun of the Dead. But no, Spotify had to be somehow interrupted by an emergency radio announcement, because that’s a recognisable beat from other zombie films.

Some time passes, and we hear a conversation between Lily with some surviving friends. The tinny audio suggests that they are talking to each other remotely – possibly via Zoom, or Discord – and formulating a plan to scavenge supplies, with “tinned peaches” an item apparently high on the shopping list for some reason. It is hard to tell whether we are supposed to know they are talking to each other remotely – because it seems implausible that the electronic and technological infrastructure required for that could still be working in a world where 90% of the population has died. This again seems to be an opportunity to examine the changing world this outbreak occurs in – where a generation of people who take for granted being able to chat with each other instantly over distance might have to work out analogue modes of communication – as the survivors in Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead did with dry-erase boards and binoculars.

When our rag-tag team of survivors finally does assemble in Wounded, very little about the boilerplate interactions stands out. Perhaps this is because some of them are very obviously only there for the sake of getting chewed up by the undead. The problem is that Abbie Allen’s script makes that obvious, by offering them little in the way of development beyond Marvel-era quipping. Zayne Ellis in particular is given very little to do before his character Tyler makes his exit – and his ‘friends’ give us even less reason to care, not even taking the time to ease his suffering.

A great chunk of this, and the inclusion of an underdeveloped gang of antagonists, would have been best left out entirely – as well as the ‘gun-fight’ which takes place somewhere in the blackened images captured in a British forest after dark. Again, there seems to have been a sense that there have to be scenes with a swarm of the infected eating someone, and there have to be gun-fights between surviving groups in this kind of film – but their inclusion only serves to undermine the most promising elements of the film. Avoiding their inclusion outright would have left more space to explore the film’s relationship between Lily and Keira (Jessie Dipper). The delivery of both actors is great, and in moments, both are given the space to convey glimpse of emotional range that could have been incredibly impactful if only they were the core of the film.

In particular, Aurora Sunn – who also co-directed the film with Luke Furmage, and produced its eerily understated score – is so believable when she finally breaks down under the weight of all that has happened, that I was left wondering whether I was watching the same film. Everything had been so quick-fire and jaunty until that point, and Sunn delivers a much-needed injection of gravitas into proceedings. At the same time, a flash back with Dipper sees her brimming with positive ideas for a bad movie night at the pair’s flat, in a way that breaks with a lot of the all-too-knowing dialogue of earlier scenes – as Allen’s writing dares for just one second to deliver something human, but that isn’t related to the characters’ A-B dash for survival.

It would have been great if the relationship between Lily and Keira had more space for this kind of definition. How long have they known each other? Is this a romantic or platonic relationship? Why is Lily so insistent that Keira not call her ‘Lilith’, even though she is credited under that name in the film’s titles? Not only could this have helped us understand why they are so willing to sacrifice everything for each other in a heartbeat, it could have helped us relate to them, ratchetting up the tension whenever they were in peril.

It would be wrong of me to only focus on the ‘what ifs’, though. The best idea the film has is one it manages, albeit briefly, to deliver on. A twist reminiscent of I Am Legend by Richard Matheson – which the Hollywood adaptation with Will Smith was too cowardly to run with – suggests that there is more to the infected than meets the eye. They might not be ‘people’ anymore, but they are living, feeling creatures; evidently with just as much going on upstairs as the survivors we follow foolishly scrambling around in the woods for “tinned peaches”.

Unfortunately, the avenue to explore that is swiftly closed off, because Wounded again remembers that its prime objective is to make ‘a zombie film’, rather than telling a story. The nuts-and-bolts villains return to set up a ludicrous showdown in which several characters forget how guns work. Standing a foot away from the barrel of a loaded rifle, the villain asks “how are you going to [stop me] on your own?” I don’t know much about firearms, but it would seem very obvious how. For some reason, though, the question still seems to give one of our heroes an alarming moment of self-doubt.

Even if the scenario weren’t so overtly silly, though, it would still be underwhelming. Again, the film’s climactic sequence seems to have been dreamt up only as a means to deliver the type of ending you would find in ‘a zombie film’ – cut to black as an attack ensues – rather than something which would give us something to fresh to chew over when the credits roll. All we get here is a mouthful of something long past its sell-by-date.

I have worked as a script editor for a zombie horror before, and having been told “don’t give up your day job” for my efforts, I know all too well that producing something worth seeing in the medium is easier said than done. Despite my detractions from Wounded, though, I won’t be echoing that galling advice here. Instead, I want to make it clear that in some ways, they seem to be on to something – and if they keep plugging away at it, they may well create something which both works as a zombie horror, but also breaks new ground, and challenges us to think about these kinds of stories in a new light. They just need to focus on delivering those original ideas – even if it means foregoing the staple ingredients of the genre.

1 comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: