What to Watch Verdict
As the music of 'Bloodthirsty' becomes more punchy, teasing more feral themes, Amelia Moses brings her narrative from a simmer to a boil with overflowing predatory intrigue.
🎤 Lauren Beatty sure can sing.
🎤 Haunting horror melodies.
🎤 Might be too slow a buildup for some.
🎤 Recognizable progressions.
It’s not often that critics are privileged to review two completed titles from an emerging filmmaker in the same year, but Amelia Moses is making quite a name in 2020. I’ve already reviewed her cabin-in-the-woods remix, Bleed With Me, out of this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, and my latest Fantastic Fest review, Bloodthirsty, completes a Moses double-feature. Two campfire titles that feel intertwined; familiar horror narratives in isolated locations that benefit from confident finales. Moses’ style (thus far) utilizes tried-and-true genre structures, then executes these crescendoing stingers worth their payoffs. In the horror world, leaving audiences with a lasting impression goes a long way, Bloodthirsty included.
Lauren Beatty stars as songwriter and musician Grey, whose just been courted by a famous but reclusive producer. Vaughn (Greg Bryk) finds a new muse in Grey, one he can mentor, but Grey’s partner Charlie (Katharine King So) is worried about Vaughn’s troubled past. He's a 90s boyband heartthrob once acquitted of murder charges, who invites Grey and Charlie to his off-the-beaten-path estate. Grey can’t decline the opportunity, so the couple plans their extended stay at Vaugh’s recording studio manor. A place where Vaughn coaxes out Grey’s more primal instincts, which begins to scare Charlie as she sees Grey transform before her eyes.
Bloodthirsty opens on another of Grey's visions, where she’s sloppily gnawing away at juicy meat, licking her fingers to suggest more than nutritional value. She’s on medication, using a prescription to suppress her subconscious urges, and lives a life of veganism alongside Charlie. Of course, the introductory tease is something Moses plants with reason, akin to Raw, or countless other feral-in-camouflage flicks where metamorphosis lies in wait. Grey’s exploration is one of beastly instincts, engaged by song lyrics that turn from timid romantic ballads to fiercer, more personal lines about “bloodthirsty” actions. Vaughn can mask backdoor motivations as professional instructions, while Moses’ visual storytelling takes care of selling insidiousness as baggy-clothed Grey starts wearing form-fitting red tops, and Beatty embraces the wild side in her performance.
Maybe I’m a sucker for character development through songbird soul-searching, given my undying love for Wild Rose and the like. There's nothing like a moment of reconciliation and expressive freedom when a creator strips themselves for their audience to see (figuratively), which Beatty triumphantly embraces. As she fingers a keyboard covered with empty beer bottles (to combat writer’s block), her first victory when Vaughn raises his eyebrows, striking his golden pop nugget, is that ripe unchained melody epiphany. Even better, it teases the bond between wealthy investment backer and doe-eyed performer, which Christine also notices. Despite their nights of heavy panting and sensual gyration, Christine still feels like she’s losing her innocent Grey.
It’s Greg Bryk’s task to ensure we’re always questioning his intentions, and Vaughn smacks his lips whenever he can foreshadow something sinister. Moses never hides the essence that something about Vaughn’s whole aura is amiss, but it’s still a tensely draw-out ride that starts connecting dots between behavioral sways. Perhaps how Grey reacts to vehicular bunny slaughter when driving to Vaughn’s fortress, versus how natural instincts are displayed later on? I mean, bollocks, do you know how hard it is to convey your adoration for something when all the best morsels are served in the narrative’s latter half? That’s Bloodthirsty—this siren’s symphony of a seductive, transformative thriller that brings with it tremendous awakenings.
What I’ll focus on is the impressiveness of Moses’ unification between psychological haunts, outward healing, and breaking from docile conformity. Within Vaughn’s walls, Moses keeps us teetering on-edge as the notorious idol wedges himself between lovers spun towards different trajectories. Bryk leans into Vaughn’s devilish charms when offering glasses of “the green fairy” (absinthe), while Beatty plays the part of uninhibited decision making through both her vocal talents and what gnarly practical effects help accentuate much later. Katharine King So finds herself caught in the middle, which she does just right—stirring the pot enough for Charlie to provoke Grey’s distrust in Vaughn, but also their rebellious bonding. Moses operates on a razor’s blade, but dances with the grace of a Juilliard graduate.
I’ll end by saying Bloodthirsty captures the monsters within us all, but forces us to question whether they should be allowed to surface now and again. Too much repression and we lose our identities; too much emancipation and the wolves take control. Amelia Moses has burst onto the horror scene by architecting haunts and chills with minimal means, comparable to a Sarah Adina Smith or an Amy Seimetz. Command your film’s tone and you easily can command an audience, with or without original songs written by Lowell, then vocalized by a pitch-piercing Lauren Beatty. All before soundproof booths become cages for something...better left for viewer discoveries.
Bloodthirsty is a part of our Fantastic Fest coverage.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.