Rowan (Lee Marshall), the protagonist of Amelia Moses’ Bleed With Me, is clearly far too used to apologizing. Despite being the invited guest of her good friend Emily (Lauren Beatty) and Emily’s boyfriend Brendan (Aris Tyros) on a wintry cabin retreat, you can see her straining at the seams to be as small and unobtrusive as possible.
For taking up space, for wanting a drink, for falling asleep on a long car ride, Rowan apologizes, if not in words, in body language, as timid and afraid of reprisals as an abused animal. Shy, awkward and wearing the literal scars of past traumas on her arms, it is clear from the first few frames that gestures of friendship are rare in Rowan’s world. She openly admires Emily’s breezy confidence and seemingly happy relationship. Long close ups focus on Rowan’s admiring gaze at her best, perhaps only, friend. She stares as if Emily was a beautiful painting, an illusion that could vanish at any moment.
It’s incredibly intense for what is implied to be a fairly new friendship, and amongst all of the late night laughs and scrabble games, soon all of the film’s relationships are straining under its weight. Emily seems happy to bask in Rowan’s shining beacon of worshipful admiration, but Brendan is increasingly uncomfortable with the needy interloper that has been invited to join their rural getaway.
The lopsided codependency of this strange isoceles social triangle was doomed from the start. Rowan is increasingly plagued by odd dreams and fits of sleepwalking, and the stories she tells over dinner are not quite adding up. She wakes up with fresh scars on her arms, and no recollection of how they got there. By the time her paranoias escalate to a strange conviction that Emily is vampirically stealing her blood, its abundantly clear that Rowan is someone quite different than her meek exterior posturing, and that Emily and Branden are far more damaged than their catalog perfect first impressions would suggest.
Bleed With Me has something of an inert plot, and is limited mostly to the confines of the rustic vacation cabin. While the cinematography is effective at using depth and shadow to convey mood, the bulk of the effort lies in the script and performances to sell the atmosphere and psychological mystery at the heart of its chills.
Amelia Moses‘ script is more than up to the task, Bleed With Me adeptly pulling the rug from beneath the audience as to the truth of whats going on, keeping things engagingly off balance. Rowan may indeed be having a breakdown, but Emily is also more damaged and potentially dangerous than she lets on, even if the vampirism is merely an unstable woman’s delusion.
Lee Marshall and Lauren Beatty have a strong chemistry, both actors adding dimension and depth to their characters as the narrative becomes more complex, and Rowan and Emily more dangerously dependent. Their dance between sincere companionship and gaping need is a believable depiction of a certain sort of toxic female friendship.
Its not certain if Lee Marshall’s Rowan wants to be with Emily, or just to be her, full stop. Meanwhile Lauren Beatty’s Emily effortlessly swings between caring and oddly controlling, wanting what’s best for Rowan only as far as it does not interfere with her status as the center of Rowan’s world. This also helps to sell the more genre aspects of the film, as its not a huge leap from psychic vampirism to the more tangible kind.
The tension stays tightrope taut until the final moments of the film, the stakes escalating as the cracks begin to show between the young women, Brendan almost an afterthought in their struggles to assert agency and control. The ambiguous ending of Bleed With Me is a touch unsatisfying, as the vampirism mystery isn’t what really drives the film forward. The more tantalizing question is the means and motivations that set this fragile, damaged pair on this dark collision course toward each other at all, and the unanswered hints of what they had planned for each other in the process of their pas de deux toward the worst parts of themselves.
Wicked Rating – 7/10