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Zombies and vampires cannot change who they are. They are always on the hunt for brains or blood, and that search is their defining characteristic. What makes the supernatural creatures in Bloodthirsty different—and arguably more interesting—than those monsters is how their burden is a curse, allowing them some freedom of choice. The modestly budgeted Canadian horror film takes that curse and dovetails it with the creative process (the film was co-written by the pop star Lowell, and songs she wrote are sprinkled throughout). Its scares are not intense and veer on the wrong side of predictable, yet there is real thought behind the premise. This is a film with something to say.
Lauren Beatty plays Grey, a pop singer who is a clear stand-in for Lowell herself. They look a lot alike, for one thing, and Grey composes the sort of pop ballads you might hear from Lorde. On the heels of a successful debut album, Grey gets an invitation from the music producer Vaughan (Greg Bryk) to record her follow-up at his remote mansion. Most of Bloodthirsty takes place there, with tensions flaring between Grey, Vaughan, and Grey’s girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King So). Director Amelia Moses also adds a series of nightmare sequences, including one in which Grey finds herself feral and gnawing on raw flesh. Vaughan also attempts to push Grey away from her vegan, semi-sober lifestyle, and as he does so, something sinister changes within her.
There is a long stretch in Bloodthirsty where nothing supernatural happens at all; we only feel suspense through Vaughan’s domineering, ingratiating presence. He neither attacks or hurts Grey, although he exerts inappropriate control in blunt ways. What complicates this relationship is how Lowell and co-screenwriter Wendy Hill-Tout show how Vaughan can be seductive. There are intriguing scenes where he and Grey are alone in the studio, recording music together. Lowell’s background in this side of the creative process creates an aura of credibility as the musicians fine-tune their songs until they’re ready for recording.
A horror film with few characters creates a challenge for the filmmakers. There are fewer opportunities for a body count, so Bloodthirsty opts for psychological horror. Vaughan breaks down Grey’s barriers, eroding the line of acceptable behavior, but she also kind of likes what he is doing: What does that mean about who she is, or what she is becoming? How does it align with the act of songwriting and corresponding fame, which also requires a fractured sense of self? The film offers few answers, except to suggest that celebrities and creatives have dual identities, and said identities have different ways of being satisfied. The blood and guts are liberally depicted when they do appear, which is a sneaky way of obscuring the film’s thought-provoking ambitions.
The performances here are deadpan and effective. Bryk is a longtime character actor who looks naturally menacing, so a couple droll line-readings go a long way. As Grey, Beatty strikes a tough line between vulnerability and newfound strength. This is never truer than in the songwriting scenes, where defeat and triumph always seem like distinct possibilities. As Charlie, So is a good foil, a consistent voice of reason who yearns to escape Vaughan’s tight grip. How and why these characters’ arcs converge is the one sore spot in Bloodthirsty. The foreshadowing is a bit too frequent, to the point where canny viewers can guess where all this is going. At least Bloodthirsty invests enough in its characters that we care about what happens to them.
The biggest void left by the film is how Lowell perceives herself, both as part of this film and more generally. What experiences has she had with prior producers? What does she think she sacrifices when she records another personal song? This is the sort of dialogue you can expect from a filmmaker with a few features under the belt, and it’s to Lowell and her team’s credit that her screenwriting debut inspires this kind of dialogue. By the end of the film, Grey undergoes many transformations and becomes a more accomplished, emotionally sophisticated pop star. Bloodthirsty is about what it takes for that shift to occur, and how we maybe ask too much from our entertainers.
Bloodthirsty is available on VOD platforms starting April 23.