Daria Gamliel for Cinetalk.net
Cinetalk has always supported female directors; the female population in general, but in particular, those in Media and Cinema.
After recently reviewing Amelia Moses’ Bleed with Me, it was only natural to follow up with the director’s second feature film, Bloodthirsty. But instead of giving an ordinary critique, I had the opportunity to sit down with Moses and her female cast, to get a more in-depth (and perhaps feminine) perspective.
For starters, the script this time was in the hands of Wendy Hill-Tout and her singer-songwriter daughter, Lowell. The latter’s soundtrack forms the backbone of lead character Grey (portrayed by Lauren Beatty). A singer with the sophomore album jitters is invited to work with an eccentric and reclusive producer, where else but in a snowy, remote location where nobody can help a damsel in distress. We are after all, speaking about a psychological thriller. This setup makes for a gothic almost-horror, where the audience expects bad things to happen.
Like many artists do, Grey has hopes and fears, and struggles with mental health issues. Her therapist (a cameo by genre and sci-fi fave, Michael Ironside) suggests these anxieties may be causing her violent hallucinations. But creepy producer Vaughn (Greg Bryk) sees something that Grey doesn’t even fully understand about herself. He slowly creates a trusting bond where Grey can let out the real her, both musically, and, animalistically. Grey’s girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King So) worries about Vaughn’s involvement in an alleged murder which ended the life of another young female singer. What ensues is Third Wheel tension in an eerie setting.
A nod to Director of Photography Charles Hamilton for contributing to the visual design.
This is a slightly new twist on the Werewolf genre. It alludes to the music industry being dog-eat-dog. Since Bleed with Me dealt with the vampire metaphor, I asked Amelia, Lauren and Katharine their ideas about instead applying a werewolf theme to an artistic community known to often eat itself alive. It is not only cannibalistic, but also vampiric.
Lauren expressed that even if the vampire trope could work in this context, there are other appropriate metaphors for a microcosm that can “bleed you dry and spit you out”. There’s an ongoing thread throughout the film that refers to predator and prey. The question Grey faces is whether she needs to become a monster and sacrifice parts of herself to succeed. Katharine agreed that one is expected to give up some things to obtain that success. The viewer is in fact, watching the “disintegration of parts of the Self” and the loss of balance in Grey and Charlie’s lives. Amelia added that yes, the power dynamic is present, but the story is more about Grey’s journey. The werewolf concept fits better because it’s very primal. Bloodthirsty is more about losing control than about feeding off of people.
Since we were on the topic of blood (kind of unavoidable!), and in a room full of people who identify as female, I wanted to know if there were any intentional menstrual references involved. Amelia assured that although this wasn’t the aim, perhaps women have an innate obsession with blood. Once a month for what can be on average a week of agony for certain people who possess a uterus, we bleed. “But everybody does bleed”, she said. It’s still universal, visceral, real. In the realm of Cinema, this can also be used for the purpose of comedy, shock, or fear.
There is a common point between both of Amelia’s films. Aside from the bloodlust, the main character in both cases struggles with mental health. Though the Bloodthirsty script was not written by Amelia, the screenwriters seemed to hand pick her to direct the film, as she had previously dealt with this theme. “Horror in general often deals with it,” Amelia explained. For Bleed with Me, she contemplated her own insecurities and then heightened them. Despite she is not on medication like either of her film’s characters, she does at times struggle with anxiety. What she has done is push things further in her films. It’s an exaggeration of lived experiences.
As noted above, the Third Wheel syndrome is apparent in both films. I asked Amelia about the number Three. In her first film where she was the creator of the storyline, she said this was intentional. Amelia is drawn to this aspect of social behaviors. In a room, who is the dominant person? The hierarchy of intimacy can be manipulated, especially when a couple is involved. Lauren mentioned that when a moviegoer sees the dynamic between two intimate partners, “it can feel like being a fly on the wall”. But throw in a third party and one of the three players often becomes the observer. This gives the person watching the screen a different perspective, and allows them to connect more with each character.
Katharine added that this sort of triad is also more interesting for an actor.
On the topic of the relationship between Grey and Charlie, I wanted to discuss the women’s involvement in the queer community. Both Lauren and Katharine are very out and very vocal about their sexual orientation. It is vital to them and to Amelia to have a hand in making the LGBTQ+ populace more visible. It was important for all participants to not make Grey and Charlie a coming-out story or anything other than an ordinary couple doing ordinary couple things. The film is about Grey, and not about her orientation. Her orientation is simply there as part of who she is. Normalizing a lesbian couple onscreen means giving visibility so viewers who may not have as much knowledge about the “queermunity” can see and learn.
Amelia and Katharine both studied at the Mel Hoppenheimer School of Cinema (Concordia University) in Montreal. Amelia had enjoyed watching Katharine’s queer-oriented web series The Walk-In Closet. When she read the Bloodthirsty script, she immediately thought of Katharine for the part of Charlie. Katharine runs an ACTRA LGBTQ2S committee to help industry people employ the correct vocabulary when designating or talking about queer members of the acting world. This also extends to onscreen representation. She feels it’s important that queer people are cast for queer roles. Being chosen for parts like Charlie, she feels rewarded.
It should be more commonplace, and it’s sad that it’s still not. Lauren pointed out that it is getting better. But it should be even better than it is. Even behind the scenes. It’s meaningful to take on roles like Grey. She was chosen by Amelia for the part after the pair had worked on Bleed with Me. Lauren had never experienced this kind of request for repeat business, and she wants this kind of career. She feels privileged to be openly gay, and wants to create her own content to give voices to the unheard parts of queer society. She recently launched an Indiegogo campaign for SOAP, a short film she is making with a queer friend. The project focuses on platonic intimacy in the queer community. Shooting begins this summer.
As for Amelia, I jokingly asked if her next film might be about zombies. Regardless that both of us have a soft spot for Train to Busan, she was quick to say “Maybe Frankenstein, but no, no zombies. It’s overdone”.
Bloodthirsty is available on VOD on all major platforms as of today, May 21st, 2021 in Canada! Go check it out!