'Bloodthirsty' Is a Creature Feature Without the Bite Directed by Amelia Moses
Starring Lauren Beatty, Greg Bryk, Katharine King So, Michael Ironside
Published May 20, 2021The initial premise of Bloodthirsty has all the ups and downs of a familiar character drama. Grey (Lauren Beatty) is an indie singer-songwriter on a well-earned career path of upward trajectory. Her first album was a runaway hit, and now she's hard at work on the follow-up. She's a life-long vegan, and in a loving relationship with her partner, Charlie (Katharine King So). She also struggles with anxiety and mental health, plagued by self-doubt at the thought of a sophomore slump, relying on medication from Dr. Swan (Michael Ironside) to keep her on an even keel. After receiving an invitation from Vaughn Daniels (Greg Bryk), an infamous and reclusive music producer with dark secrets of his own, Grey and Charlie decamp to his secluded mansion studio to work on her new album.
However, as the film's title and poster clearly indicate, there's more to the story. Grey also has visions of stalking animals and ripping them apart. She dreams of eating meat and drinking blood. Despite her medicated state, she still has vivid hallucinations of her nails transforming into vicious claws, her pupils rapidly dilating into atavistic shades of yellow and black. This, of course, raises questions: is any of it real? Is Grey really human? Is she becoming something more, something beastly?
It's clear that director Amelia Moses wants to emphasize Grey's inner darkness as a well-spring of latent savagery sitting just beneath the surface. Instances in the film attempt to tease this out — moments of raw physical strength, flashes of snarled teeth and biting — but because we're denied access to Grey's inner thoughts for most of the film, the eventual third act turn following a second act reveal feels like emotional whiplash. Are we supposed to root for Grey's struggle with identity? Does she actually want to embrace the monster within? Well, it's hard to tell.
At one point in the film, Charlie, watching the psychic damage Grey inflicts on herself while working through late nights in the studio with Daniels, says, "This place is doing something to you," to which Grey replies, "It's not this place." Playing both the sinister bad influence and wise mentor, Daniels takes Grey out for long walks in the wilderness surrounding his estate, asking upfront, "Do you want to be a predator, or do you want to be prey?" While this line might align with Bloodthirsty's overall theme of identity, the context of the discussion from Grey's perspective is framed around her songwriting and performance as a musician, where her anxiety about her "second album flopping" continues to hold her back. It's this kind of thematic muddling that jerks the viewer around unnecessarily, diluting the impact of the well-intentioned psychological horror elements.
For much of the film, Moses resists the urge to lean into cheap thrills and jump-scares, instead letting the gothic darkness of Daniels' mansion, the eerie solitude of frost-bitten forests, and long pans across wide open spaces cultivate narrative tension. Combined with a compelling score from Canadian singer-songwriter and producer Elizabeth Boland (a.k.a. Lowell) and Michelle Osis, there's enough stylistic verve in the first two acts of Bloodthirsty to set it aside from most low-budget horror efforts. (The film even sports its own titular pop song, garnering two Canadian Screen Award nominations in 2021, for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, respectively.)
Unfortunately, when the monster does arrive and the film's characters are working through clunky exposition and information that the audience has already well and truly figured out from simple visual cues, the third act resolution that follows feels tepid at best and downright goofy at worst. The problem with cinematic depictions of werewolves is, funnily enough, the realm of the anthropomorphic.
The best on-screen werewolves — An American Werewolf in London (1981), Dog Soldiers (2002), The Howling (1981) — lean into the imposing physicality, gory transformation, and sheer terror the monster evokes. While the worst — the Twilight saga (2008-2012), Van Helsing (2004), Teen Wolf (1985) — end up showing the monster as simply a dire-wolf, a CGI abomination, or just regular people with poor dental hygiene and a bad case of hypertrichosis. And sadly, Bloodthirsty fits the latter category with creatures that look like walk-on extras from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, more slapstick than savage.
Ultimately, it's this messy pursuit — from boiling character drama to moody psychological horror and inevitable creature feature — that does the film in. Hampered by a weak screenplay, impenetrable protagonist and goofy third act, Bloodthirsty tries to pull off all three modes simultaneously and spreads itself far too thin in the process. (Raven Banner)