FrightFest 2021: Bloodthirsty Satisfies the Carnivore in Me

Singer-songwriter Grey (Lauren Beatty) has had a successful debut album and is now feeling the pressure for a second. She receives an invitation to work on the next album with genius music producer Vaughn Daniels (Greg Bryk) and takes up the offer, despite the misgivings of girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King So), and despite the hallucinations she had been battling with of turning into a wild animal.

You can probably work out most of the story from that brief introduction, but a good deal of the details are original enough that it doesn’t become too predictable. To be honest though, Amelia Moses’ Bloodthirsty isn’t so much about its plot: it’s about finding one’s self, about music; it’s about its gothic style and its women.

Grey clearly feels very shaky about her place in the music world: now that her first album is out, she is exposed—to fans and journalists alike—and if she fails taking the next step, everyone will see. Charlie—an artist in her own right—is supportive and encouraging, but as she watches Grey change, in her music and in her confidence, the support becomes difficult to maintain. Both these central women are portrayed with seeming authenticity (even Charlie, who is comparatively minor), and sympathetically written: I can feel for them both, with confusions of their own.

Bryk’s Vaughn, on the other hand, is a slightly seedy, somewhat clichéd outcast artist. The mentoring and secluded working environment that he offers Grey form a catalyst to her development, and it’s through him that the audience sees what that development will involve. Perhaps to some degree Bloodthirsty is about the influence Vaughn has on those around him (all women, as far as we see), but only a little. I maintain that it’s really not about him at all, despite what he might like to think. Vaughn is the only man in Bloodthirsty, by the way, apart from Grey’s doctor (Michael Ironside, who I nearly didn’t recognise with both hands) in brief scenes that bookend the film.

Greg Bryk as Vaughn Daniels in Bloodthirsty

There’s something I haven’t mentioned: this is a werewolf film, full of the anguish that comes with discovering one’s nature, and blood, and explosions of creativity. The way I see it, the wolf transformation and Grey’s identity-seeking path represent the turmoil and pressure that creative people go through when pushing themselves to a limit. Bloodthirsty was written by Wendy Hill-Tout and her daughter Lowell Boland, a singer-songwriter herself whose experiences in working towards a second album fed the script. Lowell also wrote all the songs which make up a good deal of the film’s mood. It would be tempting to describe Bloodthirsty as a feature-length music video, but it could also be an outpouring, a confessional.

Bloodthirsty is a gothic horror in terms of both style and content: indeed, if your favourite film is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and you fancy a modern fix, you can’t go far wrong with this. It is full of dark interiors with rich lighting, a long dining table, a wealthy man waited on by a middle-aged housekeeper, Vera (Judith Buchan). There’s even a scene in which Vaughn lounges in an armchair by a fire and instructs Vera to get him “the usual” to eat and another shortly after in which he’s back in that armchair with blood all over his chops. And it’s set in a remote mansion! Gothic for sure.

The music and the sex reflect this mood, with passion and angst aplenty, yet it is slow-paced like everyone concerned is reluctantly walking towards their doom (only Charlie sees things this way, though). Nevertheless, Bloodthirsty does not feel melodramatic—well, maybe a tiny bit, but it is the right amount and certainly not too much. The other feeling that it lacks, unfortunately, is excitement. Vaughn is selfish and callous, Vera is like a stiff Mrs. Danvers, Grey is tormented and grows steadily colder, and Charlie, well, ends up in the snow. Bloodthirsty may be a stylish and enjoyable film, but it is cold. I wonder if that’s the feeling Moses wanted to leave us with.

I can’t conclude a write-up of a werewolf feature without saying something about the special effects. In a word, the effects are excellent. The gore is palpably squishy, and the blood stains look neither random nor over-the-top—CSI would approve. The creature transformation effects are all practical, with no distracting CGI: there is a real person behind the distorted cheekbones and fangs. At no point does it look like the lycanthrope characters are wearing masks, mind you: it’s all smoothly and impressively done.

Lauren Beatty as Grey and Katharine King So as Charlie in Bloodthirsty

There’s one thing I must take exception to, and only one, and this is in the FrightFest listing, rather than in the film itself. FrightFest describes the film as having “a shimmering LGBTQIA+ twist,” and this is definitely not the case. In Bloodthirsty, the same-sex nature of the couple’s relationship is not a twist or unusual in any way; it is barely even commented on. I found it refreshing to watch a film in which a central character was queer and yet the queerness was not the focus of the story. Her journey of discovery was even something completely separate to her sexuality, which was presented as an utterly natural and undeniable aspect of her person. Indeed, it was so natural that I wouldn’t have even mentioned it if FrightFest hadn’t made a point of it.

Signature Entertainment presents Bloodthirsty’s European premiere at Arrow Video FrightFest 2021, 29th August and on Digital Platforms and DVD 30th August.

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Written by Alix Turner

Alix discovered both David Lynch and Hardware in 1990, and has been seeking out weird and nasty films ever since (though their tastes have become broader and more cosmopolitan). A few years ago, Alix discovered a fondness for genre festivals and a knack for writing about films, and now cannot seem to stop. They especially appreciate wit and representation on screen, and introducing old favourites to their teenage daughter.

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