More and more often, modern horror is mining social awkwardness to induce an emotional response from it’s audience. Sure, it’s always been a feature of the genre – Carrie and many others come to mind – but I’ve found that there is an increasing number of films, especially from women directors, that subtly explore the kind of needling anxiety that can come from being isolated in an awkward situation. In Amelia Moses’ feature debut, Bleed With Me, big-time scares are traded for much more nuanced prods at her viewers’ comfort levels. As her protagonist, Rowan, loses confidence in her ability to trust the world around her, that world becomes smaller to the point of suffocation. It’s a disarming look at how relationships are formed and twisted in a secluded and isolated environment.
Rowan (Lee Marshall) – shy and introverted – is invited to her coworker Emily’s (Lauren Beatty) cabin in the winter, with Emily’s boyfriend Brendan (Aris Tyros) joining them. Being the ‘third wheel’ in the group creates a situation that’s immediately awkward, and there’s a feeling that Rowan doesn’t know Emily all that well – certainly not well enough to be the couple’s only companion here – and Brendan seems indifferent, at best, to Rowan’s presence. Which is not to say that Emily’s unwelcoming or anything, but there’s distance between Rowan and the couple and their interactions feel strained since they seem pretty outgoing and she definitely is not.
As alcohol flows and Rowan starts to question her place in the group, her feeling of not belonging is amplified with horrific visions that neither she nor the audience know is real. Each time Rowan awakens from her hazy, intoxicated state, she finds her half-remembered dreams starting to, ahem, bleed into reality. Where did the incisions on her arms come from? Is she imagining seeing Emily drinking blood? Rowan’s bouts of sleepwalking seem to add to the confusion and terror, making her (and the viewer) question where the danger is truly coming from.
Beatty and Marshall anchor the film with their performances, their dialogue and chemistry providing the real backbone of Bleed With Me, ironically with Tyros’ Brendan shunted into the third-wheel role. The portrayals are all strong and controlled, providing just enough thread to develop the film’s creeping sense of unease.
Dominic Caterina’s score builds throughout Bleed With Me, dropping in more and more dissonant chords as the disconnect between Rowan’s inner world and the outside reality falls out of balance. Rowan’s interactions with the couple become more bizarre and her paranoia escalates, and the score’s strangeness increases to match. The visual scares, disturbing when Moses chooses to employ them, are fairly scant, so the atmosphere and her cast of three performers need to do a fair bit of heavy lifting to get where Moses is taking us. All in all, it’s up to the task and Bleed With Me builds to an effective and unexpected climax.
Bleed With Me is a story about our need to be accepted into an in-group, and the uneasiness that comes with the suspicion that we don’t belong. Moses has crafted, here, a small story on paper, but it feels immediately relatable, which amplifies the scares as things really go off the rails. It’s a terse and tightly-controlled thriller with much bigger ambitions than you might expect, and Moses delivers on all of it.