Lycanthropy often represents repression or a struggle with duality in horror. Transforming into a feral werewolf tends to serve as a heightened metaphor for something else; puberty, sexual awakenings, generational trauma, religious persecution, or ruminations on mortality. In Bloodthirsty, unleashing an inner wolf mirrors a musician’s thirst for success and demonstrates how wolves lurk within the music industry. However, Director Amelia Moss takes a psychological approach, resulting in a slow-burn tale that favors mood over showier lycanthrope elements.
Indie singer Grey (Lauren Beatty) struggles with hallucinations of savagely ripping animals apart with her teeth, reveling in their entrails. Her doctor (Michael Ironside) wants to subject her to more extensive therapies, but Grey instead chooses to pursue a follow-up album that will top the success of her debut. She accepts an invitation to work with notorious music producer Vaughn Daniels (Greg Bryk) at his remote studio in the woods. The more Vaughn pushes her to let down her guard for the sake of her art, the more Grey’s accompanying girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King So) worries for her mental health. Grey’s musical breakthrough coincides with an awakening of her inner bloodthirsty beast.
Written by Wendy Hill-Tout and her daughter, Lowell, who provides the original music, Bloodthirsty opts for some subtlety in its dog-eat-dog metaphor. That finesse makes the allegory feel a lot less heavy-handed than it sounds. The early setup also feels conventional, initially presenting Grey as a soft-spoken vegan that finds herself craving meat and exploring her anger under Vaughn’s guidance. The closer she grows to her predatory mentor, the more a rift grows in the relationship with Charlie. It’s a familiar setup with a fairly barebones plot.
Lowell’s music makes it more interesting; Grey’s songs grow more haunting and macabre the more she psychologically transforms. The push and pull between Grey and Vaughn proves far more engaging than the one between Grey and Charlie, the former serving as a somewhat bland tether to the lead’s humanity. Focusing on the metaphor on such an intimate level, through Grey’s journey, works in the film’s favor as well. Hill-Tout and Lowell find exciting ways to build on the mythology, too. Cinematographer Charles Hamilton captures the snowy, scenic settings with perfection, lending a gothic quality.
Bloodthirsty gets off to a sluggish start and takes a while to find its footing. The transformation here centers mostly on self-discovery, though Grey’s eyes and claws do come out when necessary. Her thirst for fame does trigger an insatiable need for blood, but not in the way those expecting a standard creature feature would find satisfying. The intent behind Charlie’s character is clear, but there’s no emotional investment behind it to make us care. Grey’s road to acceptance and the mysterious nature of Vaughn prove far more intriguing.
Amelia Moss employs a surreal, dreamy quality, complete with plenty of nightmare sequences, to set a moody tone in Bloodthirsty. It’s a confident feature that explores the pursuit of artistic success through a werewolf lens. Too much restraint can be harmful to oneself, but too much unbridled hunger can be a detriment to everyone else. There are ideas at play and an earworm soundtrack that helps set this apart from other familiar arthouse horrors, just temper expectations to a slow-burn psychological wolf in music industry clothing.
Bloodthirsty releases in Select Theaters and On Demand on April 23.