Identity is where the film begins, as we encounter troubled indie singer Grey (Lauren Beatty). A strict vegan, Grey suffers from hallucinations of animal ferocity and fleshy consumption, for which she takes medication prescribed by Dr Swan (Michael Ironside). She is also preparing for her second album after her initial success, and therefore experiences the dilemma of how to reward expectations while also not repeating herself. Her dilemma is echoed by those that the film faces as a whole: how to present material familiar to horror audiences while also being innovative, as well as how to engage with socio-political issues without being preachy.
Moses as well as screenwriters Wendy Hill-Tout and Lowell (who also composes additional music to supplement Michelle Osis’ haunting score) manage these dilemmas by focusing on the personal dramas that Grey faces. An early scene where she poses for a fashion photo shoot highlights the different personae that she must don, literally in terms of wigs and costumes. An aggressive reporter (Jesse Gervais) probes Grey about whether she and girlfriend Charlie (Katherine King So) plan to marry, despite Grey insisting that her personal life is not for public consumption. And yet it is Grey’s inner life, her mind and, dare we say it, spirit that her music springs from, or so we are led to believe when mysterious album producer Vaughn Daniels (Greg Byrk) invites Grey to come and record with him at his remote lodge that houses a recording studio.
The introduction of Vaughn’s isolated home, reached via a snowy drive through the Canadian landscape, may sound alarm bells for you. If so, you are not alone as Charlie immediately feels uncomfortable and urges Grey not to stick around. The couple’s initial tension escalates as Grey draws closer to Vaughn as he encourages her compositions, forcing her to confront her inner demons and to trust him. Each time he urges Grey to trust him he seems more unsettling and his actions less appropriate, but while at the same time Grey does become more creative and seemingly more open. Her initial mousiness steadily gives way to something more confident and even predatory.
The single location and small group of characters – Vaughn also has a servant Vera (Judith Buchan) – recall various other films, especially Ex Machina despite being far lower tech. It is perhaps not as thought-provoking as Alex Garland’s masterful inquiry into humanity and selfhood, but it does offer a strong emotional tone throughout. Moses displays masterful control of the cinematic space, using steady shots to capture our characters in enclosed spaces that are nonetheless isolating. By contrast, there are instances of jarring editing that reflect Grey’s similarly fractured mind. Time and space jump around, what she did and how is not made clear. The sound design is especially evocative, as mastication is emphasised on the soundtrack to visceral and decidedly chewy levels. The sound of eating links to Grey, and the film overall is at its strongest when it maintains its focus on her as well as keeping things ambiguous – there are some revelations that take place away from Grey which detract from her arc.
On this note, the film makes great use of Grey’s songs as commentary for the events. The inclusion of a song called ‘Bloodthirsty’ might seem a bit on the (wrinkled) nose, but it works as a reflection on the events, a discussion of fame and a (literal) coda. Meanwhile, the steady development of Grey’s album provides a smart parallel between her growing apart from Charlie and closer to Vaughn, while her music as well as something emerges from within her. The music studio, especially the recording booth, serves as an atmospheric space for Grey’s creativity/subjugation, enclosed as she expresses herself and observed both by Vaughn and her own reflection in the entrapping glass. While the story may be well-worn, Bloodthirsty offers a bold and innovative twist that is satisfyingly unsettling, gory when it needs to be, and says something about the entertainment and media industries as well as contemporary female identity.