Directed by Amelia Moses.
Screenplay by Wendy Hill-Tout & Lowell.
Starring Lauren Beatty, Greg Bryk, Katharine King So, Michael Ironside, & Judith Buchan.
775 Media Corp / Voice Pictures
Not Rated / 84 minutes
The following essay contains SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS!
Turn back, lest ye be spoiled.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of seeing Amelia Moses’s other film Bleed With Me at Fantasia, and it was a gorgeously chilling little story. She has another great film out this year: Bloodthirsty. Maybe some will be concerned by Moses’s predilection for blood. I, for one, encourage it. Her films have carved out fresh territory in the horror genre, taking figures out of classic horror and presenting them in her own way.
Wendy Hill-Tout and singer/songwriter Lowell co-wrote the screenplay for Bloodthirsty, centring on up-and-coming indie musician Grey (Lauren Beatty), who’s in the process of working on her second album and also her mental health. Grey’s invited to work with infamous producer Vaughn Daniels (Greg Bryk). She’s heard the rumours about him, that he was acquitted for the murder of another singer years ago. But she goes anyway, bringing along her girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King So). The recording sessions get very intense, to the point Vaughn’s going overboard. Grey has visions that are getting stronger the more she works with Vaughn, too.
Soon, something inside her is going to erupt.
Bloodthirsty takes the typical werewolf horror film and turns it on its head. Moses uses the classic werewolf figure as a vessel for Grey’s artistic journey, depicting how the singer struggles with the beast inside her. Monsters in the movies are ripe for allegory, metaphors of the Other and the outcast. This monster tackles the price artists pay to bring their art into the world, as well as the gendered struggle all too often at the heart of the music industry.
Vaughn, despite what’s revealed about his identity later, is like any other powerful man in the music industry who preys upon women. We find out he comes from generational wealth. He leads such a typically eccentric bourgeois life in a remote mansion. A stark contrast from Grey’s upbringing, shuttled from foster home to foster home, never having a sense of stability and constantly facing potential abuse. This is but one form of power Vaughn displays and holds over Grey, starting with the fact he’s invited her to his private estate and uses wealth to impress her.
Male control becomes a running theme throughout Bloodthirsty. Vaughn continually shows predatory qualities, stating his life philosophy simply: “Because there are predators, and there is prey.” He’s known more about Grey the whole time than he initially lets on, then withholds the info for his own purposes. In one scene, Vaughn pulls out a gun— one we’re to assume he’s used already on a woman— in front of Grey and Charlie, a violently phallic symbol that prominently illustrates his predatory male dominance.
Another similar aspect to Vaughn is how he specifically represents the predatory powerful men in the entertainment industry. Considering Lowell co-wrote the screenplay with Wendy Hill-Tout she likely injected her own unsettling experiences with men in the music industry so far. In a society continuing to grapple with Harvey Weinstein and the fallout from so many other revelations about abusive men in power, Bloodthirsty is a disturbing exploration of such men’s predatory nature, and, most important of all, from the perspective of women, from the writers to the director.
We watch Vaughn gradually whittle away Grey’s boundaries. He takes her pills away, manipulating her by telling her it’s about art when it’s actually about control. He later invites Grey to dinner alone— pulling her away from her partner, something a manipulator will do to get sole access to their victim(s)— and convinces her to eat meat, even though she’s vegan. Again, there are things we find out about Vaughn’s identity that negate sexual predatory behaviour in Grey’s case, but the point is not sex here. The point is the control that powerful men like him exert over women, to the point they can actually make women actively work against their own best interests by total manipulation. It’s a tragic story we see all the time, in the entertainment industry and in everyday life, as well.
“Sometimes it seems that the past
only exists to haunt us”
Vaughn acts as chief enabler and primary bad influence in Grey’s life. He believes art is all that matters, no matter what collateral damage he leaves behind. His excuse for monstrosity in the artist comes in the form of his excusing bloody murder by supernatural creatures: “Werewolves do terrible things. It‘s in our nature.” The same as people excusing wild, destructive behaviour in musicians(etc) clearly spiralling towards a dark place as ‘well, what did you expect?’ and it’s a tale as old as time— look at Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Keith Moon, Sid Vicious, Amy Winehouse, and many more. So many people enable such hugely talented artists to do what they want, and it usually results in destruction.
Grey doesn’t want to give into the worst sides of herself. After she lashes out and physically assaults Charlie, she pleads: “I‘m not a monster.” Yet she does want to create great art, and unfortunately she’s convinced by Vaughn that, to do that, she’ll have to become the monster she never wanted to become, if that’s what art dictates.
This is the biggest question of the film: what would you give for your art?
The werewolf figure in Bloodthirsty operates as an allegory for the beast an artist can become when they make certain sacrifices, or destroy themselves and those they love, all for the sake of their art. One set of images Moses uses shows the recording booth with Grey inside, twin images paralleling how the artist’s struggle with the werewolf transformation. In one, Grey sings away until she’s depleted by Vaughn asking for more and more takes. In the other, Grey transforms into a beast— the image of her locked away inside the booth mirrors folklore about people locked inside a jail cell to prevent their werewolf transformation from causing bloody chaos. These duelling images of Grey in the recording booth show how art can turn people into monstrous versions of themselves if they allow the destructive, irresponsible idea of the artist be one of a tortured soul who must suffer for their art. At the end, the real question is, if Grey has accepted the monster inside herself, and especially if it brings more fame, will she ever be able to put it away? Or, is she forever a beast?
Parts of Moses’s other film Bleed With Me, in my opinion, touch on the potential of a vampire, though in seriously unexpected ways. It’s compelling to me Moses has again taken another classic horror creature and made it her own. The werewolf sub-genre of horror has never been my favourite, apart from a few films. Every time a werewolf story reels me in I get excited because I love the monster itself, just not how it’s been overused and, occasionally, turned into something goofy rather than scary. This film makes the werewolf scary, and loads the creature with meaning.
The view of monstrosity, from predators to artists, in Bloodthirsty is unforgettable. The power dynamics at play between Grey and Vaughn load the story with suspense— Beatty and Bryk each refuse to let the audience take their eyes of them while onscreen. Moses squeezes out ever last bit of nerve-shredding tension in the realism of a young woman being preyed upon by a powerful man. She uses the werewolf to explore the potential for tragedy when we value a person’s art over their mental or physical well-being. Grey’s body-horror struggle with the beast inside her is one that so many real people struggle with, only made more difficult by being a woman. Although many have made it in the entertainment industry, the path to fame is paved with the blood and bones of people who were chewed up and spit out, by their own wolf-like teeth or those of another.