BLEED WITH ME Cuts Deep with Tension and Paranoia: Fantasia 2020 Recap
A quiet young receptionist spends a winter weekend at her co-worker’s cabin, but things take a sinister turn when she suspects someone is drugging her… and draining her blood.
That ominous description is all the set-up you need for this wonderfully tense, psychological thriller. BLEED WITH ME is downright creepy and absolutely chilling. It’s full of paranoia and surrealistically, seductively, eerie dream sequences. It’s an incredibly effective Canadian indie horror film with a tight ensemble cast of three people and essentially one location (shot in the woods in Harrington, Quebec, atop a snowy hill).
Written and Directed by Montrealer, Amelia Moses, BLEED WITH ME isn’t your typical cabin in the woods flick. The brilliant combination of just three actors, and a wintery cabin, is the perfect ingredient for the claustrophobic horror that awaits. It’s a great example of what a micro-budget genre film can do.
BLEED stars Lee Marshall as Rowan, the quiet and meek guest who embarks on this unknowingly terror-filled weekend. Emily, played by Lauren Beatty, is the perfect friend who invited Rowan to the perfect getaway. Rowan is in utter awe of Emily’s perfect life and perfect relationship with Brendan (played by Aris Tyros), the perfect boyfriend… who just wishes he could have had a weekend alone with Emily. Suddenly, things in the cabin aren’t as perfect as they appear.
Rowan soon finds herself sick, very drained and tired… She awakens from strange dreams involving blood, and soon discovers strange cuts on her arm. She acts erratic and confused and soon the lines between fantasy and reality seem to blur. Luckily, Emily is there to help her out. But the scary dreams continue and they seem to involve Emily. Is the perfect Emily not so perfect? Is she hiding something? Does Rowan also have a few secrets of her own?
Marshall gives a very engaging performance as the troubled gal. Rowan is very likeable and complex. You automatically sympathize with her and the nightmarish weekend she’s going through. It’s a very layered performance, and we see many of Rowan’s layers as the film progresses. This isn’t a typical run-of-the-mill victim in a horror film. There’s a sadness in her that has depth. She really wants to have that “perfect” life. You really see the sense of awe in her eyes when she questions Emily.
“How do you do it? You both seem so happy.”
“We take care of each other. Simple as that.”
With that, you really begin to understand Emily. Confident and concise. And she, too, is also complex. Emily knows she isn’t perfect, she’s just confident and caring. Beatty wonderfully portrays Emily’s desire to nurture… while also maintaining a certain air of mystery. That careful balance of putting everything out there… but also not being fully upfront about everything. Emily seems to always be there for Rowan, despite suffering a recent injury. Yet, she’s very much in control, and will do what she wants, such as inviting Rowan to the cabin, even though it causes some conflict with her boyfriend, Brendan.
Tyros take on Brendan serves the same role that the audience plays; witnessing these events and piecing it together. While he’s annoyed with Rowan’s stay he does the best to keep her entertained and make her feel welcomed. Through him we learn more about Emily… and as a result we also learn more about Rowan. Brendan is very likeable and kind, and also very much concerned with the happenings in this cabin, and the possible strain it may put on his relationship with Emily. A strain that already has existing tension from Brendan having to take care of Emily, and Emily’s reluctance to let him take care of her.
The entire film has that tense feel, and that interplay with the trio.
This overall tension is very much heightened thanks to the striking visuals, the haunting stringed score, brilliantly, stark sound design, and perfect editing. Adding to said overall tension are cold wintery scenes, foreboding sunrises, and images of violence, such as a trapped rabbit bleeding out. The rabbit motif, and metaphor repeats a few times throughout.
As one would expect with a film called BLEED WITH ME, the scenes that involve blood are particularly gruesome, yet also have a masterful sense of beauty. The great practical FX and bloodwork by Kaye Adelaide was described by Marshall as “very sticky but delicious”. It’s especially masterful in the numerous nightmare sequences, that really add to this film’s look.
These dark dreams with shocking bits of crimson really fuel the psychosis that Rowan goes through. One moment she’s in a dreamlike daze, the next she’s awake. Lucid and not lucid. Unsure of either. Dealing with her foreboding night terrors and hallucinations of dread that increasingly turn into a very animalistic nature. Just as Rowan’s uncertainty grows, so does the audience.
This film constantly plays with that notion. The uncertainty. Little bits and clues are dropped in. More layers to both Rowan and Emily’s past are revealed. Their intentions. Their motives. Their past.
The further we get into Rowan’s mind, the more we understand and empathize with her. We feel for her. Her desire for friendship and connection and the fear and mistrust of said friends.
As Rowan, and the audience, gets closer to doubt, she (and we) also get closer to Emily. The very nature of their relationship is explored, examined, and reexamined. Emily’s motives become both clear and unclear. When Rowan confesses to Emily about something she’s been holding back, Emily states, “Sometimes we do crazy things to find our friends.” There’s a deep love and friendship between these characters, despite how flawed or twisted that may be.
Having these flawed characters is the perfect way to explore a slew of topics ranging from unhealthy dynamics, toxic codependency, gaslighting, boundaries, friendships, desire, and self-harm. A lot of these, and the very setting of an isolated cabin in the woods, may particularly strike a chord with audiences, especially during these many months of pandemics, anxiety, isolation, and quarantine.
Like every classic psychological horror, the audience is actively engaged with this story. Rowan waking up in bed almost paralyzed with fear. Sleep paralysis or something more? Noticing cuts that weren’t there before? Is it a scratch in the middle of the night due to frequent sleepwalking? Or something else? Losing one’s mind, or the victim of manipulation? Are we witnessing a psychotic break or something meticulously planned?
Quite often in these kinds of films, you have a character who realizes someone isn’t quite who they seem. This film goes so much deeper than that. The beauty of this film is that neither character appears to exactly be what they seem from quite early on. There’s as many questions as there are answers.
Right up to the end we’re questioning everything. When we think we get an idea, we soon second guess that, and even then it’s ambiguous. The events stay and haunt you to the end and you’re constantly piecing it together with even more questions. Everything is there, and the viewer is putting together everything just as Rowan, Emily, and Brendan are.
It’s such a unique film, and it’s very much from Rowan’s paranoid point of view, and even the other actors on set treated it as such, keeping their interpretation to themselves to not sully the director’s vision.
On that note, I should point out that Lee Marshall and Amelia Moses first teamed up on the gory, award winning body horror short UNDRESS ME, which played at FANTASIA FEST a few years back, as well as over 30 other festivals. They clearly work well together, because this feature length film (which they both produced, along with Mariel Sharp) is a triumphant return to FANTASIA FEST. BLEED WITH ME is well worth the 4 years it took to get this project made.
I’ve been looking forward to this feature since I first heard about it a few years back, and this film does not disappoint. I’m eagerly looking forward to future films from this cast and crew, and luckily they’re already all working on various additional projects.
The FANTASIA FEST Q&A gave some additional insight into he filmmaking. It seems the cabin was very much a character in itself. Lauren Beatty described the filming at the cabin as “intense and creepy, but also still and calm”.
The cabin was equally harsh in real life. It was an 18 day shoot that dealt with such hassles as power outages, frozen wells, lack of running water, extreme cold, and a few storms. The last of which benefited the production, as it was actually used in the final moments of the film.
A number of weird coincidences, and the weird energy of that cabin, contributed to the movie. As per the production notes:
“And while it might sound like the weather conspired against us, we know it was actually conspiring with us. The elements created a thrilling energy and urgency on set; the cold brought us together around the fire; and a snow storm arrived on cue to blow swirls of snowflakes more beautiful than any snow machine could.”
BLEED WITH ME is a very intense bit of filmmaking about flawed people struggling to make connections and understand themselves. It’s a very smart psychological thriller that respects you enough to not insult your intelligence. I absolutely loved this film. It’s at times utterly heartbreaking and tragic, yet also incredibly beautiful and tender. It’s the kind of film you immediately want to talk about and discuss with your other film buds. It will linger long in your thoughts as you question things, much like the dreams that keep Rowan awake.