Indie filmmaker Perry Blackshear is gradually carving out a niche for himself as a purveyor of thoughtful, strange, and often deeply unsettling horror movies following the release of They Look Like People and The Siren. His latest offering, When I Consume You, continues that trend, bringing a supernatural edge to real-life issues. Here, the specter haunting our protagonists, a miserable brother-sister duo living in a shittier corner of New York City – capturing what one of the most photographed cities in the world actually looks like for 99 percent of inhabitants is one of the movie’s biggest selling points – is some kind of vague childhood trauma. Or addiction. Hell, maybe it’s both. As with Blackshear’s other films, your mileage will vary depending on how patient you are with the deathly slow pacing and little to no explanation of what’s really going on.
When I Consume You opens with a woman (Libby Ewing’s Daphne) puking up blood while a male voice calls out to her from the other side of the door. Daphne also has a black eye, and the implication is that she’s being abused by a romantic partner. In reality, Daphne and, later, her meek brother Wilson (regular Blackshear collaborator Evan Dumouchel) is being stalked by some kind of malevolent presence who regularly beats her up to boot. The scattered remains of a satanic ritual suggest Daphne has taken matters into her own hands but, to his horror, Wilson soon discovers his sister dead after she’s lost her latest tussle with the demon. He then endeavors to avenge Daphne by hunting him/it down and finally defeating the presence, which also involves becoming a stronger person in general too – a considerable task for someone who’s clearly just drifting through life.
Blackshear’s latest is a defiantly grim, sporadically entertaining little chiller. This is bare bones stuff, despite the high stakes themes of familial trauma and addiction issues, neither of which is fully excavated to any satisfying extent. The camera is kept tight on the actors’ faces throughout, creating a sense of intimacy with the protagonists, neither of whom are especially endearing – though it’s always nice, as a sober viewer, to see a sober character leading a movie without falling off the wagon. Wilson, in particular, is quite a pathetic, sad sack type whom it’s tough to get behind. Dumouchel bears a passing resemblance to Macon Blair in Blue Ruin, only wirier. Unfortunately, this conjures up memories of a better movie whose message about overcoming obstacles, even to a potentially fatal extent, was much stronger and better communicated than this. Dumouchel’s performance is solid, so it’s not a mark against him, but the screenplay, also penned by Blackshear, lets him down with how overly mannered, flowery, and even borderline pretentious it is.
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Ewing, also a strong performer, is saddled with some of the worst, and most painfully obvious, lines, particularly the narration, which is completely unnecessary. The revelation she works somewhere called Behemoth isn’t subtle, and it doesn’t come up organically either. Moreover, the idea of physically battling your demons is clunky and badly presented, with clumsy fight scenes conducted in badly lit areas. There are plenty of haunting compositions in When I Consume You, and the cinematography is appropriately gritty, giving a dangerous air to the proceedings particularly when Daphne and Wilson venture out into the night-time streets, but the scariest and best shot is undoubtedly a pair of glowing yellow eyes in the darkness. It makes sense that Blackshear keeps going back to it, especially because it’s significantly less effective in the light of day. Likewise, the demon kind of looks like the dude from The Offspring’s “Hit That” music video once he emerges from the shadows too, which is unfortunate.
The brother-sister dynamic is different, at the very least, and When I Consume You is fitfully compelling. Blackshear conjures a forbidding atmosphere that holds for the most part, but problems arise when you scratch beneath the surface even a little bit. The demon could be interpreted as a metaphor for alcoholism, since Daphne mentions several times that it used to show up in bars and nightclubs, especially. But the family trauma angle is also evident in her interactions with Wilson, as well as both siblings’ current, lowly status in life. Perhaps it’s been left vague purposely, to allow us to take whatever we like from it, but the result is strangely frustrating. Still, When I Consume You is intriguing enough for the most part. Just don’t expect it to leave much of a mark, unlike the demon at its dark heart.
Catch When I Consume You on VOD from August 16, 2022
WICKED RATING: 6/10
Director(s): Perry Blackshear
Writer(s): Perry Blackshear
Stars: Libby Ewing, Evan Dumouchel, MacLeod Andrews
Release date: August 16, 2022 (VOD)
Run Time: 92 minutes