Fantastic Fest: The Creatures of the Night Make Beautiful Music in Bloodthirsty

Director Amelia Moses on the allure of the werewolf

Lauren Beatty finds the beast inside in Bloodthirsty, the new film from Amelia Moses debuting at A Celebration of Fantastic Fest

When it comes to horror films, it's not uncommon for a film to play at Canada's Fantasia International Film Festival, and then get booked for Fantastic Fest in Austin. Filmmaker Amelia Moses is pulling off a rarer double: a new film in each schedule.

Her first feature, modern vampire psycho drama Bleed With Me, played Fantasia. Her followup, werewolf chiller Bloodthirsty, will be this year's closing night title for the virtual Celebration of Fantastic Fest. But then, these are unusual times. She said, "My friend made a joke, 'You release two features and the world ends.'"

"It was a total coincidence," she added. She'd actually shot Bleed With Me a year before she came onboard with Bloodthirsty, and the experiences of the two films were, if not polar opposites, then markedly different. As she'd written the script for her bloodsucking drama herself, "I was developing and writing that for so much longer," she said, and that gave her an instant insight into what kind of film she wanted to make. Bloodthirsty was already a mostly-formed project when she came on board, just a few weeks before shooting, so a lot more of the creative process took place on-set. "I had to get to know those characters, and spend time with the actors."

The two projects have a lot in common ("a single location in the winter, minimal cast," noted Moses) but most significantly are part of a growing number of horror films directed and starring women. Yet Moses was cautious about framing the films purely within that context. She said, "When I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker, I wasn't thinking about the gender disparity in terms of directors." However, she noted that diversity is the prevailing discussion in the film industry, "especially in the director role." As for the subject matter, she added, "I'm interested in female-driven films, but not because of some political agenda, but because that's what I know."

Moses said she was particularly drawn to depictions of flawed women. "It's a complete fallacy that the main characters has to be completely likeable," she said. "We have a lot of male characters like that, but I think people are still fearful that all lead characters have to represent all women."

She described Bleed With Me as the story of two women in which one, the other, or both are dealing with the possibility that one of them is a vampire. But in Bloodthirsty there's no doubt that something lycanthropic is stalking musician Grey (Lauren Beatty) and her artist girlfriend, Charlie (Katharine King So), when they travel to the mansion of notorious super-producer Vaughn (Greg Bryk). The question is whether the wolf she hears is at the door or under her own skin.

“I wanted to embrace the grotesqueness” - Amelia Moses, director of Bloodthirsty
In the script, Grey epitomized the kind of conflicted, far-from-perfect character that intrigues Moses, while also proving that you can find points of connection with even the most complicated and questionable of protagonists. For Moses, it was the question of how an artists takes that next step, and at what price. "I really liked the premise in terms of someone trying to write a second album just as I was trying to make my second film."

Bloodthirsty is undoubtedly about the creatures of the night learning to make beautiful music, which meant that Moses faced two particular challenges that have been the bane of filmmakers for years. One, making convincing quality pop songs that make the audience believe that Grey really is the talent the script demands; and two, creating a convincing werewolf.

The music side turned out to be surprisingly easy. She knew Beatty could both act (having had her play the suspected bloodsucker in Bleed With Me) and sing, but on top of that the script was written by producer Wendy Hill-Tout and Canadian singer-songwriter Lowell, who also provided all of Grey's work-in-progress tunes. "When I got on board, most of the songs were already written," said Moses, adding that listening to Lowell's back catalog "made me more confident in the project. ... I feel like I got a better insight into what she was trying to do."

As for the monster, that was a tougher choice. In Bleed With Me, the only indication of vampirism is a surfeit of blood. That's part of why there are so many more vampire movies than werewolf flicks: It's a lot cheaper to pull off. "You're still humanoid, and there's less transformation."

Making a werewolf that fools the audience is more of a challenge. Genre cinema is lousy with films rendered laughable by gluing some fur and fangs on a hapless actor than have been made legendary by a truly feral creation like Oliver Reed in Curse of the Werewolf, or the anima(l)tronic masterpiece of An American Werewolf in London. Moses made one decision straight off. "It wasn't going to be a person in a suit." Her werewolf was going to reflect Grey's increasingly divided nature, and the sacrifices that she would be prepared to make in search of the next level of success. "Think of it as less as a wolf and more as a non-human creature. ... I wanted prosthetics on the actress, rather than a full suit, to make her still somewhat human. I wanted to embrace the grotesqueness, and the hybrid nature of it."


A Celebration of Fantastic Fest

Online at www.fantasticfest.com, Sept. 24-Oct. 1. Find news, interviews, and reviews at austinchronicle.com/fantastic-fest

Bloodthirsty World Premiere at a Celebration of Fantastic Fest, Thu. Oct. 1, 7pm. RSVP for free screening access at www.fantasticfest.com.

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