Writer-director Amelia Moses delivers an unsettling debut
Throughout writer-director Amelia Moses’ slow-burn thriller Bleed With Me I spent a great deal of time thinking about how tricky it is to make an engrossing slow-burn thriller. The filmmakers are banking on their ability to hold the audience’s attention while the story simmers, and if they’re off on anything along the way, no one will care by the time everything comes to a head. What I admire about Moses’ film is that she not only has the confidence to pull it off, she also doubles and triples down on the difficulty. Bleed With Me takes a bare bones premise and spins it into a prickly psychological nerve-jangler that never lets its characters, or the audience, get comfortable.
Seemingly happy couple Emily (Lauren Beatty) and Brendan (Aris Tyros) are off for a weekend getaway at a remote cabin. Along for the fun is Emily’s co-worker and friend Rowan (Lee Marshall). It’s the middle of winter and the three have nothing but snow and each other to keep themselves entertained. As the movies have conditioned us, dreary, uninviting grey whether outside inevitably leads to dramatic fireworks inside the cabin. Moses lights the fuse early. Rowan is clearly not in a great place mentally and it almost feels like her presence feels like a pity invite. Marshall projects fragility in every move she makes, whether it’s curling herself on a chair or even smiling. Rowan feels like she lives on the edge of breaking down. The relief on her face when she connects with Brendan or Emily is palpable.
At first, it appears that Moses is setting up a love triangle. The way her script sets it up, Rowan could have a thing for either Emily or Brendan, and it could be romantic or something else. Beatty, Tyros, and Marshall play off each other great. They play their group dynamic as a mix of comfort and sudden iciness that keeps you off balance. The tenor of their relationships is constantly in motion; shifting, bending, twisting itself around. It’s fun to watch.
As the story becomes progressively creepier, Moses gives every character something to put them on edge. There’s a walk through the snow that ends with the trio finding rabbits that have been strung up and killed. Rowan watches, mortified, while Emily and Brendan obliviously poke at the dead animals and laugh. Soon after that we learn that Rowan has cuts on her arms, and it’s presented in a way that offers a few explanations for how they got there, none of which are good.
I don’t want to get into spoilers because there are some great surprises that are best left for everyone to discover for themselves. Suffice to say, when the plot shifts from a simmer to a boil, it’s rewarding for anyone who has stayed with the film to that point. I didn’t fully appreciate Bleed With Me until hours after I finished watching it, as I kept turning over various moments in my mind. A slow-burn to the end.