Amelia Moses’ Bleed With Me is a lesson in atmosphere, suspense and dread as this psychological horror thriller is probably Fantasia Festival 2020’s most unsettling and disturbing entries. It might not outright scare you, but it’ll make your screen crawl.
We follow work colleagues Rowan and Emily to an isolated cabin in the middle of nowhere. Lauren Beatty’s Emily has invited Lee Marshall’s Rowan out to stay with her on a break from work, but Rowan becomes somewhat of a third-wheel as Emily’s boyfriend Brendan, played by Aris Tyros, is also there.
As the trio spend their time drinking, playing games and creating awkward and tense situations for each other, Rowan begins to get unwell. Then it isn’t long before she’s struggling with her memory, seeing strange things in the night and becoming convinced that the couple she’s staying with are stealing her blood as she sleeps.
And that’s where the horror of Bleed With Me is, Rowan grows more powerless as the situation worsens in a slow burn, tension mounting progression, and we’re left horrified by the implied things that are happening to her. What would you do if a friend was drugging you and siphoning your blood?
But that’s the beauty of the film, because it does enough to establish that Rowan might be an unreliable narrator as a lot of the events that take place are shown through her point-of-view. This strengthens the sense of dread, because we just aren’t sure if Emily is harbouring a dark and morbid secret or if Rowan’s mental state is deteriorating and she’s making these things up in her head.
Moses adds to this with deliberate camerawork, the film has lots of long, lingering and careful shots that suggest an underlying evil at every turn. Innocuous things like Emily stirring a cup of tea become sinister movements of evil intent. The score and sound-work is also superb, particularly with the log cabin itself, which becomes a nightmare crescendo of creaking floorboards and squeaking doors.
Beatty is particularly excellent as Emily because she essentially has to play two characters, the perhaps slightly overzealous friend who wants to care for Rowan, or the manipulative monster who wants Rowan’s blood. We’re never sure which one she really is, but Beatty fully commits, particularly in the more horror-leaning scenes where Rowan thinks she catches her drinking her blood, or devouring a rabbit raw.
Marshall, adds an appropriate and convincing air of vulnerability to Rowan, but also does something that I think is crucial to the film. She adds a nuanced underlying darkness to the character that elevates her slightly above being a mere victim. The film sets this up subtly with the reveal that Rowan lied about where’s from, having to scramble to justify the lie. Indeed, there is almost a shift of power-dynamics in the latter stages of the movie as well where it could be argued Rowan wrestles control of the situation from Emily.
Tyros’ Brendan doesn’t have much to do, but he grounds the entire film in reality as the polite, concerned boyfriend who is caring for Emily after an unexplained accident she’s had. He also triggers a lot of the film’s central conflicts by being there, namely in Emily’s possessive and jealous reactions to his bonding with Rowan, as well as his annoyance that Emily has invited Rowan along to what was supposed to be nice time away as just the two of them.
Those looking for answers will probably grow frustrated by the time the film has finished as the dramatic conclusion has taken place, but the script does enough to hint at things that have happened in the past, and also confirm things that are happening in the present to get us there. However, the ambiguity is part of the film’s power, and it wouldn’t be half as good as it is without it.
Ultimately Bleed With Me is a story about the nature of friendship, loneliness, mental health and, above all that for me, sisterhood. Both Rowan and Emily desperately want to be loved and there’s this real sense that they need each other, even though their destructive behaviours mean that things can’t end well at all. It’s painfully poignant in this regard.
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