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Bleed with Me
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by Jay Seaver

"Takes a big gamble at the end but does a lot right on the way."
3 stars

SCREENED VIA THE 2020 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL. I reevaluate movies between watch and review all the time, often finding something that makes it at least a little more interesting with a little thought. For "Bleed with Me", it got me from complete frustration with the ending to "yeah, well, I guess", which is good, because for most of the running time, I was pretty fond of this tight little thriller. I still am, actually, and I suspect those less bothered by certain plot devices will like it a whole lot.

It opens with Rowan (Lee Marshall) asleep in the back seat of a station wagon. She's not actually still a teenager, but kind of looks young and vulnerable, and is traveling to a cabin belonging to the family of co-worker Emily (Lauren Beatty) along with Emily's boyfriend Brendan (Aris Tyros). Brendan is initially none too thrilled about having a third wheel along, but Emily insisted, and he's been a pretty good boyfriend, helping out a lot as Emily recovered from an accident six months ago that still has her walking with a limp. It's looking like the under-the-weather Rowan might be spending a lot of the time in bed, and she's starting to suspect that Emily may be to blame, using the leftover painkillers she casually mentioned to keep her sedated.

Why? Well, more and more cuts keep appearing on her arm, and Rowan has spotted Emily with containers of blood when she thought Rowan couldn't see. Though Rowan doesn't have anyone she can confide in without sounding insane, there's a certain logic to it that's hard to dismiss - Emily has a sort of strange, detached way about her, and Rowan had the first couple scars before she got there, so even if a body was found, it would be pretty easy to say there was no foul play. Writer/director Amelia Moses does a nice job of giving the audience time to construct this alongside Rowan without the customary need to stop and say things out loud, go back and forth about how it sounds silly, and the like. She just trusts the viewer to get in and go with it, rather than stepping forward and back to make sure one understands just exactly how unlikely it is.

She also does a really nice job of building up the tension when the basic situation is that Rowan is being kept sick, in bed, and alone for non-trivial stretches. It's a nifty balancing act that gets across how she's feeling sluggish and uncertain but still letting the evidence build up enough that she can convince herself to look for a little more, while just enough normal goes on around her to keep things moving and have her doubt herself a bit, giving Moses and company a chance to dig into the characters without it feeling like a complete sidetrack.

That gives the cast some nicely fleshed-out folks to inhabit rather than just folks in slots, and the small group does nice work. Lee Marshall is given a character who has difficulty coming out of her shell and never has the majority of her backstory revealed but does great work with it; the moments when she becomes surprisingly chatty and open build her up a lot without a great deal of detail, and she handles the difference between naturally shy or low-key and numbed by something outside herself well. Aris Tyros gives Brendan just enough when he's a character off the main axis between Rowan and Emily to be a factor or do something unexpected. Lauren Beatty is almost certainly the star of the show, though, making Emily just enough off-kilter for the audience to think there's maybe something vampiric about her but able to slide almost effortlessly between spooky and sad. It's easy to see why, even as Rowan begins to suspect the worst, she's also fascinated and empathetic.

So, what's the problem? It's hard to talk about something which potentially sinks the movie toward the end without bringing up spoilers, but here it is: Much of the tension is built upon things that may or may not have happened the way that they are shown, and though in retrospect there is a fair amount of evidence that the film is coming from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, it's so convincing at the time, with enough seemingly left unsaid more to preserve ambiguity or create it than because it's in character, that one may feel less tricked than lied to. As much fun as clever misdirection can be, this movie is either about not admitting you have a problem or breaking away from someone who is making you suffer so that they can have power over you, and when it makes a late switch, neither of those themes wind up resonating.

At least, not for this viewer, although I can see how Moses is almost there on making both of these work and just missing. It's a big risk that makes the end frustrating, but not nearly enough to undo that impressive work it did along the way.

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originally posted: 08/28/20 11:58:48
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2020 Nightstream Virtual Film Festival For more in the 2020 Nightstream Virtual Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Amelia Moses

Written by
  Amelia Moses

  Lee Marshall
  Lauren Beatty
  Aris Tyros

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