Fantastic Fest 2020 closed out last night with Bloodthirsty, a vicious horror offering about the cannibalistic nature of fame. Gory, provocative, and twisted, Amelia Moses’ follow-up to Bleed With Me proved a pitch-perfect final act for this freaky fest.
Lauren Beatty stars as Grey, an indie songstress hoping to make it to the big time with her next album. However, the industry has already lost interest. So, Grey desperately clings to an eccentric music producer with a scandalous past. When Vaughn (Greg Bryk) insists they write and record in the isolation of his forest-surrounded mansion, Grey agrees, bringing her girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King So) along for support. However, Vaughn and Charlie are soon squaring off over what’s best for Grey, as the producer pushes her to go off her medication and embrace the dark side from which she runs.
Written by Wendy Hill-Tout and Lowell, Bloodthirsty teases elements that might suggest vampires are about. There’s the remote “castle,” where Vaughn is a pale king, cared for by a stern but loyal servant (Judith Buchan), abundant blood lust, talk of tapping into one’s primal urges, and the threat of sexual desire gone savage. However, the screenplay smartly subverts expectations, leaning into a different—yet still rich—mythos. Through this, Moses explores what it means to be a beautiful, talented, and sensitive young woman in an industry that is dog-eat-dog.
Admittedly, Bloodthirsty gets off to a rough start. If someday you come across it channel surfing and see Grey in the clichéd photoshoot montage, hang in there. Yes, she looks bored and it’s boring. Yes, her cheap pink wig plays to the tired presentation of pop stardom shown in mediocre genre offerings like Into The Dark: My Valentine and Black Mirror: Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too. Then, Grey goes home, sheds her too-cool-for-it-all façade, and cozily enjoys a vegan dinner with her loving partner. From there, Beatty keenly crafts a complicated portrait of an ambitious musician, who is tormented by self-doubt and heinous hallucinations.
After establishing her performance persona and who she is at home, Grey is swept to Vaughn’s mansion, where she is charged with writing a new chapter and a new version of herself. Vaughn preaches powerfully about how in this world, you are predator or prey. He challenges Grey to be the former, suggesting if she doesn’t, this business will eat her alive. The film doesn’t give real-world examples. It doesn’t need too. Think of the treatment of just about any pretty pop diva, who has been upheld then condemned for being anything less than perfection. The list goes on and on without mercy.
Under Vaughn’s influence, Grey begins to unfurl songs that are strikingly frank, macabre, and divine. While some movies about musicians struggle to create diegetic soundtracks that thrum with authentically thrilling original music, the songs here are haunting and beautiful, reminiscent of Lorde’s eerie tunes. More importantly, the swoon expressed within these songs—in performance and lyrics—reveals how Grey is falling for Vaughn’s view of the world. She’s changing, and while this might bring her the professional acclaim for which she hungers, it could kill her relationship with sweet, supportive Charlie.
The subtext within the horror is not subtle, but it is deliciously surreal. Moses ushers us from shadowy hallways and Sapphic love scenes into sequences of slaughter, flashes of carnage, nightmares that may be hallucinated or horrifically real. With a firm hand, a steady stride, and an implied smirk, she guides us through a scary story of self-discovery. Simply put, Bloodthirsty offers a thrilling journey, lush in style and gore, with a dark heart throbbing hard at its core.
Fantastic Fest 20202 ran from September 24 to October 1.
Header Image Source: Fantastic Fest