Bleed With Me. 2020.
Directed & Written by Amelia Moses.
Starring Lee Marshall, Lauren Beatty, & Aris Tyros.
Horror / Thriller
DISCLAIMER: The following essay contains slight spoilers
Amelisa Moses has a busy year with two feature films on deck: Bloodthirsty and Bleed With Me. I, for one, encourage this clear love of blood. Her episode of Fear Haus— “Undress Me“— is a powerful little piece of work that’s also got its own bloodiness to it. Judging by Bleed With Me there’s plenty of creepy horror in Ms. Moses’s repertoire.
The story takes place at an isolated cabin in the winter. Rowan (Lee Marshall) heads off on a little vacation with a relatively new best friend Emily (Lauren Beatty) and her man Brendan (Aris Tyros). Things start off fine, even if things with the couple are occasionally rocky. But soon Rowan feels like there may be something sinister happening. She sees Emily coming into her room at night. Then, she believes Emily may be stealing her blood. Is Emily hurting her under cover of darkness? Or, is Rowan actually self-destructive and falling into desperate paranoia?
Psychological horrors abound in Moses’s film. She combines a dark chamber drama about personal relationships, whether intimate or otherwise, with claustrophobic terror. The horror wraps you up alongside Rowan. The scariest part for an audience is teetering between believing Rowan and not believing her. Once it becomes clear what’s, in reality, going on the horror lingers heavily because we start to realise where all this is going to lead, how it’s going to end, though we’re left wondering just exactly how many people are going to have to die.
The story closely revolves around boundaries, both physical and psychological. First off, the three characters cross a boundary that divides the city and the rural, entering into an isolated space where the plot plays out. The cabin is also an unfamiliar space for Rowan. Secondly, when they get to the cabin various physical boundaries get crossed. Emily particularly seems to push against boundaries. She shows up at night in Rowan’s room unannounced. She tries repeatedly to kiss Brendan in the kitchen while he’s uncomfortable with Rowan there. Later, Rowan briefly spies on the couple having sex— a definite boundary crossing. We also again see Emily has no regard for boundaries because she isn’t bothered by Rowan watching her and Brendan, it’s only Rowan who has the problem. These crossed boundaries have more of an affect on Rowan than anybody else.
Rowan’s perspective makes us interrogate the line where dreams end and delusions begins. The boundary that separates what’s real and what’s imaginary slowly disappears the further we get into the film. The collapse of physical boundaries leads to a complete collapse of mental boundaries for Rowan. We fall into Rowan’s POV while she straddles the line between waking life and reams. There are times where it’s clear she’s asleep and dreaming. However, as the film wears on, there are just as many moments during which we have no clear idea whether it’s a dream or reality. The collapse of boundaries affects the audience as much as it does Rowan.
“Promise me you’ll never leave”
Rowan’s POV is the audience’s POV, so she’s a highly unreliable narrator. This is suggested from the opening moments. Rowan’s perspective begins at the start of the film with her waking up, falling asleep, then waking up again. This automatically places us in a sort of surreal state, where being awake and being asleep is never clearly delineated. The more Rowan’s mental health starts to break down, the more her unreliable narrator status increases. Such as how her previous history before her current job is semi-vague, even a tad suspicious. At one point Brendan questions Rowan about where she lived previously, thinking Emily had told him something different, and she stumbles over her reply, changing the question quickly. There’s nothing to suggest I’m correct about this, but there’s a possibility maybe Rowan, judging by the cuts on her arm and her delusions, could’ve been in a psychiatric ward for a time.
The film’s use of rabbits takes on greater meaning when intertwined with Rowan’s psychological headspace. Most noticeable are the scenes with the bloody rabbits: when Emily’s poking the dead, hanging rabbits, when Rowan has a dream of being back at the rabbits with Emily feeding on her wrist, and another vision of Emily feasting on a rabbit at night. There’s also the bathroom where we witness Rowan have a couple emotionally unstable moments— the wallpaper’s covered in a print with rabbits on it. This fits with Rowan’s delusions because rabbits are prey animals, hunted by many different predators, including humans. So, in Rowan’s mind, she’s the prey, the next rabbit about to be chowed down on by Emily.
My favourite aspect of Bleed With Me is how it can be interpreted as a story about not paying proper attention to a friend’s mental health. In one scene, Emily insists “I‘m helping you” while Rowan desperately howls “You‘re hurting me” in response. Rowan has issues with social isolation, as evidenced by her weird stalking revelation; she has obviously severe difficulty making friends. At the cabin, an already isolated location in the snowy wilderness, she seems to isolate herself in the bathroom or in the bedroom. Emily’s insistence later in the film on keeping Rowan at the cabin rather than going back to the city only isolates the latter more. She effectively sets up an impromptu psychiatric ward, disregarding the fact she knows Rowan is hurting herself, believing she’s the only one who can help her friend, like the friends who think you can naturally cure your mental health issues.
And the results, as expected, are horrifying.This year’s edition of Fantasia has offered a handful of films I find extremely powerful. The kind of stuff that haunts you, for better or worse. The type of stories you think about days after watching them, remembering the affect of their impact long after they’ve finished playing. Moses delivered one of those films this year. I’ve struggled with bipolar(ii) for the better part of my 34 years on this planet, and for many years I’ve also dealt with PTSD. It’s rare to find films of any genre that tackle mental illness without villainising the mentally ill.
Bleed With Me is such an effective experience because though Rowan descends into a labyrinth of psychological terror that becomes very corporeal for her/those around her, she’s not presented as villainous. I argue it’s Emily who, despite not actually being some kind of vampire, is the real villain for ignoring clear signs of her new best friend’s deteriorating mental health. Moses conveys the shock and horror serious mental illness can become when neglected without exploiting its mentally ill character, and drives home an important message about what it means to be a responsible friend to someone who’s struggling.