Sunday, October 11, 2020

Fantastic Fest 2020: Bloodthirsty (2020)

Director: Amelia Moses

Notable Cast: Lauren Beatty, Greg Bryk, Katharine King So, Michael Ironside


Well, it took a bit longer than expected, but now we have it. Werewolf films are, at least in the opinion of this reviewer, something of a repetitive subgenre. When the execution is there, the films can be a wonderful use of metaphor or representation for social and character-driven elements, but the overall repeated focus of lycanthropy as a physical manifestation of an interior force gets a bit tiresome after a while. When it’s good, boy howdy, is it good, but too often films in the genre are all bark and very little bite. Yet, this is the perfect time in horror cinema to partner the werewolf transformation with character-driven artistry. Bloodthirsty has no qualms in bounding right into it. Fortunately, the execution of the film is remarkably strong with plenty of atmosphere to choke on and the focus on characters makes for an effective watch. It’s a slow film though and its minimal approach to its werewolf elements skirts around delivering on some of its promises. Still, Bloodthirsty is the perfect film for the atmosphere and art driven focus of the current scene.


When a singer, Grey (Beatty), finds herself questioning her abilities to follow up her last hit record, she decides to team up with an eclectic and reclusive megaproducer Vaughn (Bryk) in his remote house studio to find her voice again. With her reluctant girlfriend (King So) in tow, Grey aims to open her mind and rediscover her true nature. What Vaughn brings out in her though may be far more dangerous and animalistic than anyone could have expected.


Uncovering one’s animalistic side is certainly a fear that many people can relate to in regards to a character connection. Even when the main character is somewhat detached from the usual worlds of an audience member (raise your hand if you’re a popular indie singer struggling to find their artistic voice again and must contend with egotistical super producers,) Bloodthirsty does a remarkably effective job at making the characters relatable due to the basic human emotional core of the film. It’s a film about identity crisis and how the changing aspects of life change people, sometimes in progressive or regressive ways – depending on how one wants to read the film, and the relationships to significant others, work, and one’s own needs to find themselves ring true throughout. This is not unusual for a werewolf film, but the manner that director Amelia Moses handles the material injects it with a strong heart and an emotional resonance that will connect with audiences.


Much of the narrative weight is squarely placed on the shoulders of Lauren Beatty, who ably hefts the film through the somewhat formulaic plotting that is required. The slow pacing of the plot, which focuses quite a bit of time in the first two-thirds on developing the characters and the quiet moments to define Grey’s struggle, can be trying if one doesn’t make the connection. Beatty does carry the film though and her work impressively parallels with the atmosphere and focus that director Moses is bringing to the material too. Once the werewolf elements become more clear, Bloodthirsty doesn’t deviate from its established style to deliver on its more visceral moments, which should be notable for fans of the physical werewolf material. There are some great visuals though, including Grey’s dreamlike moments of her own physical transformations, which feed well into the mental strain of the characters and the atmosphere of the setting and rising tensions between characters.


Bloodthirsty is an atmospheric and thoughtfully crafted artistic version of the classic werewolf tale. Much of its themes and plotting might be overly familiar for the horror fans watching, but as we always say on this site – originality is overrated and it’s all about the execution. An execution that Bloodthirsty has in spades. It’s a layered and character-focused film that hits hard on its emotional moments and features some fantastically nuanced performances and a sense of atmosphere that fits right in with the current state of horror. It might have taken a while for the style to grab onto a werewolf film, but Bloodthirsty combines the two with emphatic fervor.  


Written By Matt Reifschneider

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