Bloodthirsty (2020)

The heroine of Amelia Moses’ Bloodthirsty is called Grey. It is an unusual name, evoking the shade between black and white, and so it suggests her lack of definition, capturing her status as a character in transition. After all, orphaned at an early stage, musician Grey (played by Lauren Beatty) has no idea of her origins and no clear foundation for her identity. Haunted by nightmares, Grey has tried a range of medications and therapies (administered by her perplexed doctor, played by genre legend Michael Ironside) in a vain attempt to end her recurring hallucinations of “turning into an animal”. Grey is, one might say, in the making, dying to emerge from the darkness into the (lime)light.

Metamorphosis of one kind or another is what Grey craves. She is a singer and composer, already with some celebrity, but between albums, and in need of direction. That direction comes from the reclusive producer Vaughn Daniels (Greg Bryk), who invites Grey and her painter girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King So) to stay in the remote, snowbound home (with built-in recording studio) that he shares with his foreboding housekeeper Vera (Judith Buchan), so that Grey can find herself and create her next suite of songs. “We’re gonna make a different sort of album, because you’re not some cookie-cutter pop star,” Vaughn tells Grey, positioning himself as both svengali and father-figure to her. This creates tension with Charlie, who feels displaced by Vaughn, and does not like what Grey is becoming under his guidance (“I don’t know who you are anymore,” Charlie protests). And there is also the small matter of the suspicious circumstances under which Vaughn’s wife Greta, also a singer, died in the house decades earlier. 

There will be further deaths here, under similarly mysterious circumstances. For Bloodthirsty is a tale – a fairytale, even – of transformation, in which Grey becomes not just a fully-formed artist, uncompromisingly and unapologetically herself after decades of trying to please others, but also a ‘psycho’ spree-, perhaps even serial-, killer. As this vegan musician draws on her inner trauma, her primal instincts, her repressed carnivorousness and the darker side of her personality, all to fuel and valorise her art which now comes with a newly sombre, ’emo’ edge to it, she changes in other ways too. Tracing this change in Grey are the bleakly melancholic songs (by singer/songwriter Lowell, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Wendy Hill-Tout), one actually called ‘Bloodthirsty’, which serve as a choral commentary on Grey’s shifting interiority. 

The protagonist’s name also conjures Joe Carnahan’s The Grey (2011), a film which pitted man against wolf in a similarly snowy wilderness. This is significant, because in Grey’s dreams she is a predator (in pyjamas) who hunts, eviscerates and devours woodland rabbits, while in her half-awake hallucinations she sees herself with the bloody teeth, yellow eyes and sharp, elongated claws of a wolf. Bloodthirsty is a werewolf film – but much as Moses’ Bleed With Me (2020) used the tropes of vampirism to trace a woman’s mental breakdown, here too the motifs of lycanthropy are deployed in a sly, slippery manner. For they are available to be taken very literally, as Grey finally assumes her monstrous family legacy – or alternatively they can be regarded as a metaphor for Grey’s emergence as artist and/or psychokiller. With Grey, under Vaughn’s questionable tutelage, going off her meds and starting to drink heavily again, her delusions take on a familiar form, and the monster within is externalised in terms of pure genre. 

Accordingly, Bloodthirsty is both creature feature and psychodrama. Like Charlie, the film paints a picture of Grey‘s troubled inner being as much as her outer appearance – and what’s in will eventually, inevitably out.

strap: Amelia Moses’ feature is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, merging psychodrama with monster movie to show the creative process

© Anton Bitel