Review By: Jason Oliver
Montreal director Amelia Moses’ feature film debut, BLEED WITH ME, making its world premiere at Fantasia 2020, is the type of horror thriller I find most engaging. It has a small cast of three, in a remote, cold, and snowy setting where something uneasy but unidentifiable hangs in the air from the very beginning. Emily (Lauren Beatty) and her boyfriend Brendan (Aris Tyros) are driving up to Emily’s family cabin for some rest and relaxation while Emily recovers from an apparent leg injury that is never fully explained. At the last minute, and to the chagrin of Brendan, Emily has invited her friend and co-worker Rowan, who she has known for only a short period of time. Rowan sleeps in the back seat for the entire trip to the cabin, apologizes when they arrive, but Emily dismisses her apology and tells her it’s ok, she needs the rest. Moses balances an unsettled dread that you can’t quite put your finger on with a cozy and inviting setting. Nothing should be amiss here, but you know it is. They all seem like fairly normal people with normal lives and jobs, but Rowan also seems fragile and out of it, Brendan is polite but annoyed, and Emily seems way too kind, bordering on creepy. One wonders why Rowan would even accept an invitation to be a third wheel for a romantic snowy cabin getaway, but Emily can be very persuasive and Rowan has her own secrets to hide. The fun is in learning what those secrets are and how they are revealed.
The movie is broken into about 5-6 days and starts innocently enough with everyone eating dinner and getting a little drunk on wine. Then Rowan cuts her finger and Emily sucks the blood, which is pretty strange, but isn’t really questioned by Brendan, who maybe didn’t see it. From there, Rowan tells a strange story about a woman following her home from word, spills her drink in the middle of the story and passes out drunk. Emily and Brendan carry her to bed. This kicks off a series of bizarre and frightening nightmares over several days and nights by Rowan. She dreams of seeing Emily drinking or tasting blood in various ways and has night terrors of sleep paralysis where she seems awake but frozen and a strange dark figure enters her room. Rowan is also a former cutter and her scars on her arm start to open up at night, leading Brendan and Emily to believe she is self-harming.
Through all of this, Emily is a doe-eyed and doting caretaker, making Emily tea, giving her aspirin and other medicine, and insisting that Emily rest. Emily, due to her fatigue and increasing wariness starts to question the intentions of Emily to the point that she may need to escape. Emily rebuffs these silly accusations and insists that she is Rowan’s friend and only wants to help her. Rowan, so confused by her conflicting thoughts and experiences, breaks down and asks Emily if there is something wrong with her. Both Rowan and Emily have formed a co-dependent bond that is now shifting and changing over these 5 days. Rowan looks up to Emily and is awe-inspired by her seemingly perfect relationship with Brendan. She admires her confidence and poise. Rowan wants to be more like Emily and seems grateful, at first, that someone like Emily would want to be her friend. Emily sees something else entirely in Rowan. Emily sees someone to care for, someone to pity. It could be that in her injured state, she wants to take power back by putting someone else down. It’s not a spoiler to say that the viewer should get some sense that Emily is experiencing signs of Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy.
All of this tension eventually boils over. Slow burn thrillers always do. While the tone is consistent, the direction sure handed, and the performances precise and compelling, I’m not sure what Bleed With Me adds up to, or adds to the genre. It does not boast a particularly shocking or revealing ending. It does a good job of putting us in Rowan’s shoes, keeping us disoriented, and more and more distrusting of Emily, but almost to a maddening degree. These characters are ultimately underdeveloped, and that’s the real shame. You get glimpses, but everything you think you know about them feels slippery, so it is difficult to invest in their experience. Rowan is so out of it for most of the movie, when she does seem to put things together, it’s difficult to grasp what is reality and what isn’t. Perhaps that’s the point, and the ending does feel ambiguous, but that also eschews confident storytelling to appear more clever than it is.
Ultimately, I was disappointed with Bleed With Me. As a debut, it is very well made, but too undeveloped to heap praise upon. The theme of co-dependence is interesting, but far better executed in the recent Midsommar. I’m very interested to see what else Moses has cooking however, and I hope she continues to work with cinematographer Rene’ Arseneau and actors Lauren Beatty and Lee Marshall. There is an undeniable artistic collaboration at work between them that has me wanting more from this team.
Bleed With Me had its world premiere debut at Fantasia Fest on 8/25/20 with an encore to follow on 9/1/20 at 3pm EST