After putting a youthful, female-centric spin on vampiredom in “Bleed With Me,” Canadian director Amelia Moses does the same favor for werewolves in “Bloodthirsty.” This sophomore feature is likewise a slow-burning tale set among three primary characters in a remote setting. But this time the script is by producer Wendy Hill-Tout and her daughter, singer-songwriter Lowell, who make the pressures of the music industry integral to the story.
To a degree, that emphasis may disappoint horror fans who want more of the fanged action that takes its time arriving here. But within its modest boundaries, “Bloodthirsty” does a creditable enough job balancing supernatural suspense with the drama of a young artist’s insecurities at a key early career juncture. It may be one big metaphor, but as they go, “Recording a second album made me a monster” has the ring of truth. Brainstorm Media is releasing to VOD on April 23 in the U.S.; Raven Banner will simultaneously release in Canada.
Grey (Lauren Beatty, who was also in “Bleed”) is a 20-something performer whose first album was apparently a hit — enough so that the press are badgering her for news of on a followup, as well as whether she plans to marry her live-in girlfriend. She finds both topics invasive, though at least domesticity with painter Charlie (Katherine King So) is a stable, supportive element in her life. Charlie, however, is none too supportive upon learning that Grey has chosen as her next disc’s producer the esteemed but reclusive Vaughn Daniels (Greg Bryk) … or rather, he has deigned to work with her. This is problematic because not so long ago he was tried for the murder of another young woman he was recording, though the charges were eventually dropped.
The two women nonetheless drive into the boonies to his home-slash-studio, an impressive, slightly sinister manse complete with an imperious Mrs. Danvers-like housekeeper (Judith Buchan as Vera). It doesn’t take long before Charlie and their host are butting heads, particularly after he acts out the late Greta’s supposed suicide using an actual gun. He pushes Grey to embrace the “something primal” he can “smell all over you,” getting her to admit she’s on meds (prescribed by Michael Ironside as a briefly-seen shrink) because she “hallucinates that I’m turning into an animal.” Surprise: It turns out those visions aren’t just delusional fantasy, and further, she may have been lured here by Vaughn because they have something alarming (not to mention very, very primal) in common.
When a transformation finally occurs, well into the film’s final third, the cinematic lycanthrophile may find the result curiously reminiscent of the title figure in “Werewolf Woman,” one of the undersung glories of 1970s Italian exploitation movies. But unlike that hairy lady, Grey keeps her clothes on, and Moses’ film does not dabble in camp or kitsch. While it certainly could be scarier, with a more explosive finale (and less improbably-neat wrap-up), the psychological tensions are credibly etched.
Performances are solid all around, but the film’s stealth weapon is Bryk — he wisely underplays Vaughn, so it’s queasy and disturbing when we grasp in just how many ways this character lives up to his self-billing as a “predator.” No wonder under his roof Grey starts writing songs like the eponymous one, whose lyrics complain everything gives her “the creeps.”
Lowell, who’s collaborated on discs by Hailee Steinfeld, Bulow, Madison Beer and others, gives Grey songs that are certainly plausible as coming from a breaking mainstream artist, even if they seem less ambitious or edgy here (as sung by Beatty) than the material on her own real-life albums. She won an original song nod and shared the original score award with composer Michelle Osis for “Bloodthirsty” at the Canadian Screen Awards earlier this year.
Though it takes place largely inside Chez Daniels (lent an expensively tasteful neo-Gothic vibe by production designer Mike Kasper), the movie is at its most atmospheric in the woods outside, their winter chill nicely captured by DP Charles Hamilton.