Creative expression is a gift...
...Whether it’s pouring words onto the page, playing with color and form on canvas, or using lyric and melody to let your soul sing, the drive to express oneself through a creative outlet is something that fuels many of us, a vehicle through which we can feel seen and heard. But that drive can easily turn into obsession, and that obsession can become all-consuming. A hunger that will never be satiated. History and pop culture are rife with creators that succumbed to that hunger and lost themselves in their artistic endeavors, never to find the way back. Imagine dealing with that struggle compounded with the fact that you’re turning into a ravenous werewolf, and you’ve got Bloodthirsty.
Rising pop star Grey (Lauren Beatty) is feeling the pressure to deliver a killer sophomore album and not end up a one-hit wonder. On top of that, she’s started having vivid nightmares where she is both pursued and then takes on the characteristics of a vicious animal predator. Her therapist (Michael Ironside) is quite concerned when her nightmares start spilling over into daytime hallucinations, but Grey pushes all that aside when she’s scouted by notorious record producer Vaughn Daniels (Greg Bryk) and invited to come stay and collaborate with him at his isolated mansion in the snowbound woods. Once there with her girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King So), Grey finds immediate inspiration through Vaughn’s coaching, but Charlie is concerned at the increasingly dark tone of both Grey’s music and her behavior. Grey ignores Charlie’s protestations that Vaughn is not all he seems, including suggestions that he may have been involved in the murder of his last protege, in the hopes of producing an album that will secure her career in the music business. As she sinks deeper into Vaughn’s world, however, Grey finds herself transforming. Not just into a stronger singer, but into something primal, dangerous, and thirsty.
Directed by Amelia Moses (Bleed With Me), and written by Wendy Hill-Tout and her daughter Lowell, an out LGBTQ+ pop artist who also wrote the film’s songs, Bloodthirsty is a meditative, quiet film that elevates the tropes of the werewolf movie to put a fresh spin on a familiar story. It’s a very simple film from a technical standpoint, no flashy cuts or trippy transitions, but it’s the right choice as it allows for the film’s stark setpieces and landscape to hold power in each and every frame. This locale was the perfect choice, and the production design really helps immerse the viewer in Vaughn’s strange, hermit-like world just like Grey.
As this is a world of music and song, sound and score are essential. Lowell’s eerie lyrics and haunting melodies stand out as the macabre throughline of the story. They start out dreamy and soft before shifting into something decidedly more dark and raw as Grey herself transforms from angelic indie darling into an alt-pop princess of the night à la Lorde or Billie Eilish. It serves as great juxtaposition to Grey’s physical transformation as well; as the deep truths of her inner self find their way into her music, so too does Grey’s primal self begin to emerge unchallenged and unchecked, threatening her relationship with Charlie. Beatty delivers a mesmerizing performance for such a physically demanding role, and her chemistry with King So is sweet and natural. Plus, it’s always welcome to see LGBTQ+ couples in horror, especially ones that fight for each other. Grey might be hungry for fame and success, but she wants Charlie by her side for that journey.
Despite a limited budget, the practical effects and blood work look top notch. Gorehounds will be well fed by the film’s kill scenes, though it’s the subtle moments like sounds of Vaughn’s cutting his steak or Grey’s late-night raid on the kitchen fridge that leave the viewer feeling truly revolted and unsettled. The design of the werewolf is also menacing and unique, and Moses employs a bag of clever tricks to allow us to see just what we need to at just the right times to heighten the tension, turmoil, and terror.
Yet in the end, Grey’s metamorphosis is not the most frightening element of Bloodthirsty. The film’s true horror lies in its exploration of the predatory nature of the music business. We see this not only in Vaughn’s demands of and ambitions for Grey--in his toxic insistence that pain yields the greatest work, but in the crushing, oppressive pressure fans place on their favorite artists and the expectation that each successive creative piece outshine the last. Our culture lauds and champions those that create for a living, but it can also misconstrue fandom for ownership. “We supported you, you owe us more. You owe us better.” Even Charlie, when she sees Grey finally breaking through her writer’s block, laments that Grey isn’t as innocent as she used to be before they arrived at Vaughn’s estate. She’s concerned for their safety, yes, but underneath that concern is another veiled form of entitlement to Grey’s personage, and her personality.
This aspect of Grey and Charlie’s relationship could have used a touch more focus to heighten that dynamic, as Charlie soon becomes less of a character and more of a minor prop in the second act, there to clash with Vaughn and poke at Grey as she sheds her baggy sweaters and dons form-fitting, bold red and black crop tops. Vaughn himself occasionally falls flat, and doesn’t always come off as intimidating as I think he was written to be, and there’s a twist that gets delivered with a classic villain’s monologue that hampers an otherwise interesting, engaging story.
Bloodthirsty is, overall, satisfying, well-crafted, and lush in all the right places. Talented forces behind and in front of the camera bring to life a tale of fame, drive, self-discovery, and what it means to be an artist. A film with a heart and a message about creative hunger presented as a werewolf film with some refreshing new takes on the genre that other filmmakers will hopefully mimic. While not every character is fully realized and the twist muddies things up a bit, Moses has undoubtedly delivered a delicious little film that will leave you foaming at the mouth for whatever she does next.
By Craig Ranallo