Sometimes a film just sits with you for awhile and you aren’t sure what to make of it. As cliche as it sounds, that was my experience with Amelia Moses’ feature-length debut, Bleed With Me. On the surface, it checks off a lot of boxes for me. A single, isolated location? Check. A small cast? Check. Human-on-human what-the-fuckery and blood? Double check! So while I remain steadfastly impressed with the film, I definitely don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about what I watched.
The setup is awkward right from the jump as Rowan, a shy, unassuming woman, accompanies Emily and her boyfriend, Brendan, as a third wheel on their winter weekend cabin escape. It’s a strangely familiar position for what appears to be a relatively new friendship–we know from dialogue that Rowan has worked in Emily’s office for less than a year. They met at the office Christmas party, and it is still very much winter-time. There’s also a strong mother/child type relationship between Rowan and Emily, despite very little apparent age difference between them.
Rowan’s interactions with Emily and Brendan serve as the backdrop for a somewhat confusing story exploring themes of manipulation, paranoia, gaslighting, and self-harm. Riding a thin line between an ‘unreliable narrator’ in Rowan, or an all-out break with reality, I never felt like I was supposed to trust what I was seeing. In addition, character and story turns happen so abruptly that, when combined with the hypnotic nature of the film, it made me legitimately question whether I had dozed off or not. I didn’t.
Overall, I can’t help but feel that this might have been part of the point. As a species, we tend to be constantly suspicious of other humans and their motives. But it’s rare that we can be certain, so we constantly second-guess our instincts. I won’t say definitively that this is the point Moses is making, but it’s all I’m really left with by the end.
Lee Marshall anchors the film with a deeply moving performance as Rowan. With every facial expression, movement, and line reading, she sells vulnerability and discomfort while showing a minimal amount of effort. Not surprising, as Marshall also starred in Moses’ breakout short, Undress Me. The trust between them is palpable.
Slow, burning discomfort builds throughout the runtime until it abruptly explodes in a final act confrontation between Emily and Rowan. While it brings our window into Rowan’s life to an end, I can’t say the same for my own understanding. Ultimately, the film doesn’t stop and explain the who, what, when, and why. It simply isn’t that kind of movie. But Moses brilliantly executes scenes drenched with soul-grinding tension up to and including its bleak, disturbing conclusion.
Bleed With Me made its world premiere at Fantasia Fest on August 26, 2020.