Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"There's an all too familiar kind of horror here which makes the first half of the film an uneasy watch."

Any serious process of creation requires openness to the world, vulnerability. It's a difficult thing in itself, and almost incompatible with the pressures of fame. Since the surprise success of her first album, Grey (Lauren Beatty) has struggled to cope with fan attention. She's been dealing with mental illness, specifically a series of nightmares and hallucinations in which she perceives herself to be a savage, predatory animal. As she's vegan, this is all the more distressing, far from the life she wants to lead. Her doctor has prescribed medication which seems to help a bit, but when a legendary music producer invites her to record her second album at his studio far out in the woods, it seems like the perfect opportunity to recover and find focus. She has no idea how much more vulnerable she is making herself.

There's a clear underlying theme here about the way young women in the music industry are treated by older, much more powerful men. Grey's situation is more complex but the body language between her and Vaughn (Greg Bryk) will still have most female viewers on edge early on. She's not unaware of the risks and has taken along her girlfriend, Charlie (Katharine King So), to give her some back-up, but the fact that Charlie doesn't have a musical background means it's easy for Vaughn to ease her out of the picture. His reputation and the air of mystery he cultivates about his techniques persuade Grey to invest more and more trust in him, whilst all Charlie has to trade on is the tired appeal of established love, her very devotion allowing Grey to dismiss her concerns and take her for granted. Soon Vaughn is asking the young star to take risks with more than just her music - but just what is his agenda, and does he fully understand what she's capable of?

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There's an all too familiar kind of horror here which makes the first half of the film an uneasy watch. Director Amelia Moses takes it slowly, letting us see the trap. Perhaps Grey sees it too, but her curiosity about her own nature leads her onwards nonetheless. In the second half, as her hallucinations return, the boundary between what we see and what we can clearly identify as in-film reality begins to break down. It seems increasingly that we are dealing with the supernatural, but it's hard to pinpoint the edges of it, to fully reckon with its form. Like all good art of this kind, Moses' film refrains from coming down too heavily on one side or another. Questions are left unanswered. The literal truth becomes less important that the psychological struggle between Grey and Vaughn.

Madness and art are frequent bedfellows in stories of this type. Grey makes an effective heroine because her illness is never sensationalised and because she resists Vaughn's attempts to romanticise it, wary, eve as she surrenders, of letting him tell her what constitutes her true self. Beatty once again proves herself a capable performer, whether she's overwhelmed by her emotions or holding them in tight restraint, permitting them to emerge only through music. There's an awkward distance about Grey which makes her hard to get close to but easy to care for.

Although its horror is primarily psychological, viewers should be aware that this film gets very gory in places, and there are scenes of (simulated) violence towards animals which some may find distressing. None of this is gratuitous; it's an important part of the storytelling. Moses keeps the framing simple for most of the running time, giving the actors plenty of space, and they reward her for it. Though its plot is slight and not particularly original, Bloodthirsty is an impressive follow up to last year's Bleed With Me, which also starred Beatty, and it confirms the director as one to watch.

Reviewed on: 04 May 2021
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Bloodthirsty packshot
A young musician who suffers from hallucinations is persuaded to record an album in a remote location by a producer with an agenda of his own.
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Director: Amelia Moses

Writer: Wendy Hill-Tout, Lowell

Starring: Lauren Beatty, Greg Bryk, Katharine King So

Year: 2020

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: Canada

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