Some scars never really fade. When I Consume You centers on the Shaw siblings, who escaped their abusive family home for a new life in New York City. The (mostly) unexplained horrors of their upbringing are quite far in the rearview mirror, the adult pair long independent of their toxic childhoods. They’ve survived, but aren’t quite thriving, still clearly marked by their trauma.
Daphne (Libby Ewing) is sardonic and hard edged, a girl who grew up far too fast into a woman who doesn’t trust much of the world outside of the tiny family unit she’s created with her brother. While Wilson (Evan Dumouchel) is technically the older sibling, it is clear Daphne was his protector, rather than the other way around. He’s almost too gentle to even begin to deal with the outside world, so introverted his main sources of company are Daphne and a carefully tended row of potted plants in his tiny apartment.
That confidence is ripped to shreds when Wilson finds Daphne dead in her apartment. The pills by her body suggest a drug relapse, but Wilson sees a hooded figure climbing out of her window, and Daphne’s journals mention a mysterious stalker. When the police refuse to acknowledge the hooded man ever existed, Wilson is forced to try to investigate on his own. Someone dangerous is targeting the Shaws, and he’ll go to any length to find out who it is.
When I Consume You is clearly a smaller budget production, but writer/director Perry Blackshear does a great job of creating a unique perspective out of ordinary settings. His version of Brooklyn is all dark shadows and tight corners, too small apartments barely lit by decorative string lights and cramped chats on fire escapes. It’s a surprisingly effective way to make one of the world’s busiest cities feel a bit alien and empty. Even when Daphne and Wilson are going about their business in broad daylight, there’s always something darker lurking at the edges of the frame, the silhouette of a doorway or a passing vehicle, visually reinforcing some of the narrative’s themes without too heavy of an underlining.
As for the plot, there’s some clever tricks in store there as well, as the film takes its time in regard to its central mystery. Could the hooded man be a figment of Wilson’s imagination, possibly some gangstalking style delusion prompted by grief? If so, who is the mystery stalker? And why are there odd arcane symbols and rituals scribbled into the back of the same journals in which Daphne mentions him?
None of this film unfolds in a purely linear manner, with flashbacks and bits of fugue state like dream sequences interspersed throughout. The various possibilities allow both the actors and the plot to stretch out in terms of mood and tone. There’s moody psychological thriller style chases, classic genre film occult symbolism, some very visceral violence and physical training montages that with a few minor changes wouldn’t be terribly out of place in a sports film.
The performances are what anchors all of the free form possibilities from wandering too far off into exquisite corpse territory. Libby Ewing is an excellent addition to the director’s recurring group of stock players, her chemistry with Evan Dumouchel’s Wilson perfectly calibrated to make their banter feel real. Their interactions are a serious to sarcastic grab bag familiar to anyone with a sibling they find both irreplaceable and occasionally irredeemable.
Evan Dumouchel makes a marked transformation from meek manchild to borderline murderous avenger over the course of the film, and he does a very solid job of it. That said, none of his character work would matter if the audience didn’t fully believe that Wilson and Daphne’s sibling relationship was precious enough to fuel that transformation. MacLeod Andrews also deserves praise for a scene stealing appearance in the third act, that requires him to cover what is perhaps the widest swing of emotions in a film unafraid of tonal swerves.
When I Consume You spends two thirds of its runtime in the surprisingly engaging middle ground between a bleak family focused neo noir and updated folklore. It’s unfortunate that there’s a late in the game lurch toward the most literal possible interpretation to the movie’s mystery and main themes, shoehorned in via voiceover.
The way the last stretch is handled is just a bit too pat and perfect by comparison to everything that proceeded it. The metaphorical aspects are stretched as far as they can possibly go, and it all feels too rushed to have the same emotional heft as the rest of the film. If When I Consume You is neon tinged folklore, the final few minutes feel like swapping from the Brothers Grimm to the sanitized Disney version of the same story.
Despite its failure fully stick the landing, When I Consume You is an original, aesthetically interesting piece of indie genre filmmaking, that’s biggest flaw is an often smart script that backs itself into bit of a narrative corner. Perry Blackshear, between this film and They Look Like People, has shown a strong talent for building slow burn horrors out of the darker, more claustrophobic corners of the human psyche. Perhaps he has just reached his limits for how long he can stay down there.
WICKED RATING: 6.5/10
Director: Perry Blackshear
Writer: Perry Blackshear
Stars: Libby Ewing, Evan Dumouchel, MacLeod Andrews
Release date: August 18th, 2021 (Fantasia Film Festival)
Studio/Production Company: Ahab and the Dark
Run Time: 92 minutes