Horror doesn't need explaining. It hides in shadows, striking though implication, and Canadian three-handed chiller Bleed With Me loads the screen with tension, and leaves the rest to the audience's shaken imagination.
Rowan (Lee Marshall) traveling for a quiet weekend away with her friend, Emily (Lauren Beatty), turning Emily's boyfriend Brendan (Aris Tyros) into a third wheel on his own weekend away. But he doesn't complain, trying to make the best of things. After all, Rowan isn't just Emily's work friend: She's clearly her pet project, a sparrow with a wounded wing who needs a little looking after, and a few days at a remote cabin should be good for everybody.
Yet writer/director Amelia Moses weaves fraying threads in these relationships. Emily confides in Rowan that she's not sure what Brendan sees in her, but Rowan only sees his loyalty. Not that she's altogether sure about what she's seeing, and she would probably be quicker to put them aside as delusions (sprung from an implied history of mental health issues) if if wasn't for some of Emily's stranger behaviors over the weekend that she knows are for real. Now she's forced to question whether the new wounds on her arms are her old self-harm habits re-emerging, or whether she doesn't know Emily as well as she'd like to think she does. That's the thing about wounded sparrows: they lash out at their rescuers, but can't flee from their predators.
There have been a whole series of these sepia-and-shadows isolation dramas recently (The Lodge, Relic, Amulet), and when they fail it's because ambition overwhelms execution, and wanders into pretension. Moses keeps the narrative lean and ambiguous, never overstaying the welcome of a loaded conversation or one of the nightmares in which Rowan finds herself. Instead, she keeps a deft grasp on her symbolism and imagery, as sharp as the blade that Rowan sees cutting her at night, and as captivating as the blood that she sees binding her to Emily.
It works because she leaves space for the tension to breathe and bleed. It's like the incisions on Rowan's arm: precise, exacting, measured, not leaving the audience frustrated but instead fascinated. By cutting away all the narrative fat, she can concentrate on her core question of how well we can now others or ourselves, without having to provide definitive answers at every step. That's filmmaking control.
Bleed With Me is an extraordinary, terse, and tight calling card for Moses. Having already wrapped a second feature with Beatty, the upcoming Bloodthirsty, she undoubtedly puts herself in the blood-red spotlight as a horror director to watch.
Bleed With Me is screening as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, Quebec, Aug. 20-Sept. 2, www.fantasiafestival.com.
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