A score is one of the key elements of a film to set its tone, and we are welcomed to Bleed with Me with a sound of familiarity, but effectiveness in conveying a sense of foreboding. This is no secluded cabin story with a murderer about to spring out of its surrounding woods; however, it’s still a horror story. In her first feature as writer and director, Amelia Moses states the fright that befalls those in this cabin comes in the form of the insecurities and anxieties that are often present in female friendships. But the film is full of ambiguity that allows for interpretations of varying kinds. With an unsettling psychological horror film, Moses proves to be both a director and screenwriter to watch. (TW// self-harm—below and in the film.)
It looks to be a fun winter getaway of card games, drinking, and the added temptation of devil’s lettuce, mixed with the relaxing atmosphere created by a rustic cabin and a crackling fire. Normally it’s a trip only taken by Emily (Lauren Beatty) and her boyfriend, Brendan (Aris Tyros), but they invite Rowan (producer Lee Marshall) along this time. Third wheeling to most people isn’t the ideal vacation dynamic, but Rowan’s seemingly obsessive admiration for her friend would make this trip, under normal circumstances, probably the best trip she’s had in a while. But their friendship doesn’t seem like one that would work. The shy and meek loner Rowan shouldn’t normally mix with the seemingly perfect, happy, and outgoing Emily. However, one thing that’s mentioned is that they’re both recovering from some kind of trauma. Now, what that trauma is is one of the many things in the film that remains vague.
There’s something to enjoy in films that make a point of being ambiguous, but when small-budget films like this heavily ride on the characters, it’s unfortunate we don’t get to know them well, especially Emily and Rowan, because they seem to lie or avoid conversations about aspects of their past or present situation. But the performances here, along with the direction, manage to keep us engaged, as we are determined to break apart every frame and discover every meaning behind every action and every piece of imagery that encompasses their story.
This is a female dynamic that at first presents itself with a closeness of best friends and is even homoerotic, but slowly you begin to feel the tension that’s bubbling just on the surface. With René Arseneau’s intimate camerawork, you suddenly become suspicious of Emily as, in first-person, Rowan’s vision is blurred with only a shadow of a woman to make out and the sound of rattling metallics. Rowan then notices a bloody incision on her arm. She begins to have vampiric nightmares about Emily and becomes convinced that she’s stealing her blood. Whether or not this is true is another of the film’s ambiguities.
For many scenes, you can’t tell if this is Rowan’s reality or if she’s dreaming. But as a viewer, we can begin to interpret the film in many different ways. Are these nightmare images representative of her slipping back into a depression and her suicidal impulses to self-harm? For someone with depression, it’s not hard to see it that way. In Rowan’s desperation for mental peace, she imagines a kind of darkness in even the brightest of things to make her feel better, not alone, and that she’s not going crazy. She admires Emily because, in her loneliness, she wants the happiness Emily seems to have. But as the film progresses, Moses questions whether true happiness is possible and she shows that even the people who seem the happiest can also be unhappy. In those moments where Emily shows signs of being upset, Rowan shows contentment.
“What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you?” is a question posed in the film, but perhaps the focus should be on the most frightening thing. Bleed with Me is a film that, while vague and lacking in exposition, hits us effectively with the notion that there’s nothing more frightening than our own mind.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
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