Published Aug 26, 2020Quebec-based director Amelia Moses's debut feature, Bleed with Me, expands on concepts present in her previous short films (such as 2017's explosively bloody Undress Me): bodily discomfort, paranoia, anxiety, self-harm and social isolation. Bleed with Me makes great use of Moses's eye for stark, arresting visuals and some intensely emotional and intimate performances to tell a slow-burn story of destructive female friendships in an atmospheric winter cottage.
When troubled introvert Rowan (Lee Marshall) is invited to spend a cottage weekend in the woods with her friend Emily (Lauren Beatty), she isn't expecting to be the third wheel to Emily's boyfriend Brendan (Aris Tyros), who clearly isn't thrilled about Rowan's presence either. When the stilted conversation becomes too much for Rowan, she starts drinking way past the point of tolerance, and her post-blackout nightmares are frighteningly hazy. Soon she's experiencing troubling visions and falling in and out of consciousness, waking up to strange cuts on her arms she can't explain — but suspects that beautiful, perfect, unflappable Emily might be hiding a dark secret.
"Cabin in the woods" horror films often explore themes of physical and emotional isolation, but rarely do they focus on how awkward the forced togetherness of a cottage trip can be. The performances in Bleed with Me feel natural and believable, which makes the contrast between Emily and Brendan's easy confidence and Rowan's shyness even more uncomfortable to watch, especially when a severely intoxicated Rowan starts muttering odd stories about a woman who followed her home. As the film progresses and we begin to see the full extent of Rowan's potentially-obsessive relationship with Emily, determining what's really going on at the cottage becomes more ambiguous.
Bleed with Me's scares are more psychological than the film's title might suggest, and much of it is present in surreal, disturbing visuals like a forest of dead hares strung up in trees. The slow buildup towards something more sinister occurs as Rowan's own nightmares start to bleed into reality, and while the film avoids obvious tropes, there are clear themes present about the destructiveness — and crushing loneliness — of desperately needing to belong.
Fantasia International Film Festival is taking place online from August 20 to September 2. (Epic Pictures)