It’s been a while since we were gifted a decent werewolf movie (though I will defend Wolfcop and its brilliant sequel, Another Wolfcop, until the day I die) but, at this year’s Celebration of Fantastic Fest event, there were two. Amelia Moses’ (Bleed With Me) offering is the more brooding of them, the more subtle and strange. It’s also the first movie in a very, very long time to feature a female werewolf, so right off the bat Bloodthirsty should have horror fans salivating – it’s been a long time since Ginger Snaps, you guys.
Our heroine is Grey because apparently that’s a real name, between this and Upgrade, a queer singer with difficult second album syndrome. After receiving a call from mysterious record producer and acquitted murderer Vaughn, Grey and her partner, Charlie, decamp to the kind of decaying country pile where bad things clearly happen on the regular. Adding insult to injury, when they first encounter him, Vaughn is dressed like Lestat and barefoot. He practically screams “I’m a sexual predator” but the producer’s interest in Grey goes far deeper than some perverted predilection.
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The two quickly get to work, Vaughn pushing his new protégé to her limits for the sake of art. And, to be fair, the music they make together is pretty easy on the ear (all of the featured original songs were written by Lowell, who also co-wrote the script with Wendy Hill-Tout). The titular track, in particular, is a real grower that complements Grey’s woozy vocals (actress Lauren Beatty, who also appears in Bleed With Me, sounds a bit like Billie Eilish if she had any range beyond a whisper). However, as Grey grows closer to Vaughn, Charlie starts to get more and more suspicious about his real intentions.
This kind of sexually-charged power play is one we’ve seen countless times before, though rarely, if ever, with a same-sex couple at its heart. The love scenes between Grey and Charlie are shot with a romantic tinge, rather than a voyeuristic one, and their relationship is presented without comment. There are no stock homophobic characters popping up to decry them for doing the devil’s business, which is great to see. Initially, Vaughn’s interest seems purely physical. Then, it’s as though he’s feeding off Grey’s talent in some way. Without spoiling anything, the truth is far more twisted.
The question of whether Grey is losing herself or becoming who she truly is presents itself early on, mostly through Charlie, who wisely suggests they ditch this furry-collared creep, preferring their chances out in the snow rather than stuck indoors in a house decorated as though an 18th century vampire lives there (think the house from What We Do in the Shadows, only with more light). Relationships between two artists are by their very nature volatile, particularly when one party is doing better than the other. Moses and her writers play with the idea of creativity itself, as well as the struggles of making a living through your art, throughout Bloodthirsty.
The director has a keen eye for landscapes, with the sequences set outside the home imbued with a vastness that suggests there are plenty of dark deeds taking place just outside of frame. One scene is shot with snow falling in real time, and it’s so gorgeous to look at, Moses almost makes it difficult for us to pay attention to what her characters are saying. In contrast, a terrifying, car-based attack is masterful in its use of negative space. Blood on snow always looks great, but here there’s a whole other level of intrigue as we begin to question whose blood has been splattered everywhere, why, and when.
Grey is a flawed lead, in therapy (with Michael Ironside!) against her will and stuffing herself almost constantly with meds. She’s plagued by nightmares about feasting on meat, waking up with her mouth full of blood, in spite of being a strict vegan. Bloodthirsty is similar, tonally, then to Julie Ducorneau’s Raw, which also dealt with a young woman finding herself by feasting on flesh. Grey’s true nature is hinted at throughout the movie, long nails here and glowing eyes there, but when the transformation does come, Moses more than delivers (practically, too, it looks like). Beatty, who has a number of horror credits to her name, makes for a compelling lead. She could be Kiernan Shipka’s older sister, and her emotionally-charged responses mirror the younger actress’s quiet intensity. There’s a world of pain behind her eyes.
Katherine King So makes an impression, too, as the worried, pragmatic Charlie. Her relationship with Grey clearly means a lot to both of them, but the way each woman communicates her feelings to the other is frequently at odds. Thankfully, Charlie isn’t relegated to simply a one-note background character. Her art career is glimpsed here and there, but Charlie gets the opportunity to make her point through her work in a major way. As Vaughn, Greg Bryk is on shakier ground. He cuts a prickly, stylish figure, but Bryk simply isn’t menacing enough to make Vaughn truly feel like a threat, even when he’s sitting in a chair, covered in blood. The edges feel as though they’ve been sanded down off his performance, though it could’ve been intentional, to allow Beatty more room to shine.
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More werewolf movies are needed in general, but considering two great ones premiered at this year’s Fantastic Fest, we might be in for something of a resurgence. Bloodthirsty is the less accomplished of the two, for sure, but its queer, female lead and focus on character over mindless jump scares, not to mention the top notch practical effects on display throughout, put it firmly in the category occupied by the likes of Late Phases and Dog Soldiers. It may not be an all-timer but Moses’ movie certainly offers a fresh take on a well-trodden myth that many before her, with considerably more money no doubt, have struggled to master. Certainly on this evidence, there’s life in the old dog yet.
WICKED RATING: 8/10