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Fantasia Fest Review: 'Bleed With Me' never runs dry

Amelia Moses’ 'Bleed With Me' returns to the scene of many a horror movie but doesn't fall victim to constant "cabin in the woods' pitfalls.

A candlelit vision in 'Bleed With Me.'
(Image: © Amelia Moses)

Our Verdict

‘Bleed With Me’ starts out with a conventional cabin-locked premise then unconventionally veers in its final acts, hard enough to subvert and revitalize otherwise familiar horror trappings.

For

  • 🩸Ends on a high note.
  • 🩸Actresses are on point.

Against

  • 🩸Starts slow.
  • 🩸Simmers for a while.

Is it a horror film if friends don’t abandon civilized comforts for an isolated woodland cabin? Amelia Moses’ Bleed With Me plants viewers in a weekend getaway destination similar to eleventy-billion other forest tucked rentals. No neighbors, spotty cellular service, power outages, the works. Familiarity is working against Moses’ narrative from the first road trip introduction, but talented filmmakers aren’t worried about retreading overused motifs or tropes. Like Evil Dead, Cabin Fever, Cabin In The Woods, and other, well, “cabin in the woods” terror tales have revitalized subgenre expectations, so does Bleed With Me

Rowan (Lee Marshall) accompanies co-worker and best friend Emily (Lauren Beatty), and her boyfriend Brendan (Aris Tyros), on vacation. An extended escape with never ending wine, home cooked feasts, and silent reflections. All is going well until Rowan notices cuts on her forearm one morning, which coincides with blurry visions of someone postured over her bed the night before. As the days pass, more cuts appear, more alcohol is drunk, and Rowan begins to fear she’s being drained of her life blood by Emily after falling into slumber. Could she be in danger, or is it Rowan who, during sleepwalking fits, poses a threat?

Moses ignites disquieting energies from the moment Rowan, Emily, and Brendan lower their guards once safely indoors. It’s unspooled, through an anecdote, how Emily was quick to earn Roawn’s trust. That’s coupled with quite a peculiar reaction to Rowan slicing into her finger during meal prep, as Emily suckles on the bleeding appendage, almost showing delight. Uncertainty nestles under your skin, then begins Rowan’s nighttime paranoia. Do these women know one another as well as they think they do? In close quarters, outside civilization, they’re about to find out!

Bleed With Me is a showcase for Lee Marshall and Lauren Beatty. Their performances must overdramatize yet undersell ever-so right to sustain the illusion of two realities (Rowan vs. Emily) as told through only Rowan’s perspective. “Action” is that of wild accusations, Emily’s habits of refilling Rowan’s glass well-past her tipsy point, and romantic tension as Brendan's mood suggests his relationship is deteriorating. Then the bloodsucking hallucinations happen, as Rowan sleeps, where she “sees” Emily gnawing on raw meat, drinking in the reddened spillage. Through Rowan’s assessment, upon further snooping while Emily and Brendan stroll through nature, Rowan’s hosts hide either a cannibalistic or vampiric secret. Neither a satisfactory option for guests.

The psychological horror is rife with discontent and self-destruction but doesn’t buck any monumental trends until Rowan starts revealing hidden motivations. Shy, observant Rowan confesses how she sees Emily and Brendan, through intimate cinematography (that shrinks the house's dimensions), and her past midnight wandering instances. Moses isn’t breaking unforeseen ground, but her command over reveals and rivalries and how characters respond to unsettling information is devilishly proficient. What’s assumed to be otherworldly could also be nothing but crazed ramblings, and you’ll never know until the final gut-punch finale. I chatter so often about how slow-burn films put too much faith in their payoffs, which Moses, unlike many, executes with her audience’s rewards in mind.

Again, I’d like to praise both Marshall and Beatty for their investment in morbid ambiguity. Aris Tyros exists as an instigator, both comforting Marshall and frustrating Beatty. The way Marshall huddles under blankets, fearful of her outwardly compassionate and accommodating caretakes, generates an almost suburban imprisonment vibe. Then there’s Beatty, whose innocent eyes and coy grin torment Marshall’s whimpering “victim,” laying bedside and cuddling with bloodstains on her collar. Marshall and Beatty are why this isn’t just another “cabin in the woods” rehash. We’re left shaken, disturbed, and filled with dread.

Considering the film's traditional horror format, Bleed With Me diverts precisely when necessary. As alcohol inhibits thoughtful dissection, the horrors of our terrified imagination turn more toxic than 100-proof liquor. Amelia Moses takes the beaten path to her story's lesser-traveled conclusion, which empowers the preceding standoffishness. Again, nothing that hasn’t been experienced by countless other groups of “partiers” caught in the middle of nowhere. Still, there’s enough fireside twistedness to stoke an inescapable delusion that burns faster and hotter than initial temperatures suggest.

Bleed With Me is a part of our Fantasia Festival 2020 coverage.