Ever-growing gem of a streaming platform, Shudder, has given us some great platform-exclusive horror flicks, including recent abduction thriller The Boy Behind The Door, which is worth your look for the nail-biting suspense. More often than not, anything labelled a “Shudder Original” is pretty solid. It pains me to assert they have a rare miss. Their new exclusive feature from writer/director Amelia Moses, Bleed With Me, is a stiff and sluggish attempt at an atmospheric descent into bloodthirsty madness. What opens with a promising grim moodiness and striking, secluded setting becomes a slog through slow-burn horror conventions while mediocre actors behind sterile characters neglect to add any strange life.
Moses broke out with 2020 vampire horror Bloodthirsty, and is still evidently thirsty for blood, returning with a quick follow-up that also features blood pertinently in the film and title. It follows a shy and paranoid young woman along her secluded woodsy cabin getaway where she’s third-wheeling with an unlikeable couple who don’t seem to even care for her. That’s an age-old horror recipe for hellish atmosphere, memorably weird moments, and a spooky climax. Bleed With Me might benefit from having some of that.
The film opens with obligatory, beautiful shots of winding snowy hills and woods. Rowan (Lee Marshall) is travelling with her coworker Emily (Lauren Beatty) and Emily’s boyfriend Brendan (Arias Tyros) for a getaway to a cabin owned by Emily’s family. Over the course of their travels, a few facts become evident: Rowan is depressed and tense. Shy and consistently not feeling well. She doesn’t speak much but does hear her anxious thoughts loudly. It also becomes clear she’s in an unfortunate third-wheeling situation with Emily and Brendan, who are horny for each other and have the personalities of mulch.
Initially, Brendan hardly even speaks to Rowan – a good co-worker friend of his girlfriend who surely they must have invited along. It takes until they all arrive at the cabin for Brendan to actually ask, “How do you two know each other again?”
Emily does not present herself like a friend to Rowan and frequently gets hot and heavy with her boyfriend in front of her. Brendan eventually warms up a little to Rowan and begins conversing with her more, which Emily pays attention to with jealous looks.
At one point Rowan cuts herself before Emily willingly sucks the blood from her thumb.
The chemistry between Rowan and the couple feels even less personal as time moves. She spends quite a bit of time alone in an attic looking at photos. Rowan’s anxiety heightens to the point of daily and nightly nightmarish visions. Soon her paranoid visions start showing up in reality.
Watching Bleed With Me, one can sense what Moses was shooting for – A strange and deeply ambient, eerie slow burn that coasts on unsettling feel before outright terror unfolds. It unfortunately lacks the uncanny occurrences, strange behaviors from intriguing characters, or peculiar sensibility to form some semblance of a surreal buildup before shocks finally weasel their way in, over halfway through the film. By that point, though, you’ve watched almost an hour of a meek, void of personality girl suffering from anxiety as she hangs around a cabin with a couple of equally void of personality fools. Efforts of the slow-burn surreal nature need either characters so strange it lends to the fever dream feel, or characters so likeable you care for them. These characters are lifeless.
Adams has ideas, one being a plot similar to that of cult classic Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, but the formula of the “is this paranoia or real” crawl is all-too familiar; we know what to expect, and modern audiences require strong performances and a bit of weird excitement throughout that creepishly slow rise of tension.
What we have with Bleed With Me is a cast of amateurs who are too hollow to give this project a bizarre breath of life. It doesn’t need lifelessness. Bleed With Me very well should have an off-beat pulse. The formula is fine, and setting superb. Moses’ plot, though not overly inspired, is good enough to bring new bizarre elements to.
The cabin’s lavish but old and potentially haunted, sitting in secluded icy woods. Rowan is a pitiful lead with a victim-feel in an unfortunate situation. A creepy build towards haunting conclusions should be a given, but the actors are dry youngsters going through the motions of stock characters. The characters themselves don’t do much of anything. 20 minutes after finishing the film I’m having difficulty remembering what they even get into? They kind of just blandly engage in quick, boring small talk chats before breaking off into their own worlds. When subpar performers can’t subtly creep us out while they’re given little to do, we as an audience are forced to sit impatiently watching as an old trick slowly unravels before us.
Nearly an hour in, Moses sets us up with the first bit of unsettling terror when Rowan dreams of walking in on Emily gnawing on a bloody human femur in front of the fireplace. The scene is framed well, with a crackling fire going and Emily hunched over creepily. Arriving so late, however, it’s mostly an opportunity for the viewer to sigh and shout “Finally!” We needed blood or guts or something truly strange and sinister after such a long, uneventful build. From then on, what transgresses is what we wanted, but exactly what we expected.
It all makes you question what the purpose is. We’ve seen slow-churning vampire flicks before. We’ve all caught a few “cabin in the woods,” atmospheric haunts. Bleed With Me doesn’t trek a new route, but it suffers more in that it just lazily trudges along a tried route – one that could potentially offer new zest when approached with an inspired flair. The actors in Bleed With Me don’t bring Moses that flair. As a filmmaker, Moses can clearly write and stage a setting both ghoulish and gorgeous, and place a vulnerable character under bizarre awkward circumstances, but this project needs more eccentric performances, and a weirder or more hallucinatory touch. Though I entered the film with hope and wanted to end up recommending a fresh piece of horror, Bleed With Me is dull and not worth your while.