I lovingly call myself vampire trash. Since Buffy became my lord and savior, I will watch, read, and play just about any piece of media that has to deal with the blood sucking monsters. That said, there is a lot in this subgenre of horror that doesn’t necessarily land well, which is often due in large part to not being able to present the vampire mythos in a unique light. While vampire comedies like What We Do In The Shadows and Vampires Vs. The Bronx knock their stories out of the park with humor, it had been some time since I watched a serious vampire film that confronted larger themes through drama and fear. That’s where Bleed With Me comes in.
Written and directed by Amelia Moses, Bleed With Me had its world premiere at the virtual Fantasia Fest 2020. Now screening at Salem Horror Fest, the film has the ability to scare and gaslight a whole new audience—and I don’t mean that last bit in a negative way.
In the film, a self-destructive young woman, Rowan (Lee Marshall), becomes convinced that her best friend, Emily (Lauren Beatty), is stealing her blood during a winter getaway to a remote cabin. With only three characters, the film is claustrophobic and intimate, and this is what drives the terror.
While the very nature of vampiric beings with glamours facilitates the concept of gaslighting, a form of psychological manipulation in which a person covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, Bleed With Me adds another element: gender. As Rowan begins to lose herself to fear and anxiety, those around her push her towards medication and use her mental health to undercut her claims. While this would happen just given her mental state, this is compounded with the fact that she is making claims that her best friend, who is a woman, is the one perpetrating the harm.
As it stands, reporting abuse is hard and gaslighting of survivors takes many different forms. But when that abuse and harm is perpetrated at the hands of a woman, the gender expectations we carry with us make people less likely to believe our calls for help. How is a woman strong enough to hurt someone? Aren’t all women docile? Aren’t women only victims and never abusers?
Bleed With Me uses this as a base to build a story of overcoming abuse with its vampiric narrative. As Rowan has her agency undercut and stripped away from her by Emily and Brendan (Emily’s boyfriend), she has to combat the expectation that her friend couldn’t harm her and the way her mental health is treated. This further pushes her into a break, one that is very clear and fear-inducing. While this is a horror story of possible vampirism, the horror is pushed through the crossing of personal bodily boundaries.
The transgressions of boundaries is always what hits home with vampires. They cross a body and mental boundary with many of their victims but when it’s a friend, there is a whole new level of unease and wrongdoing.
The body horror in Bleed With Me is light, but the sound design used for cutting flesh and the way there is an intimacy weaved into the cuts themselves makes it unsettling. As we watch, we see the visible pain and physical trauma that is done by exploiting an intimate connection. It was enough to make me squirm in my seat not because of the visuals but rather the atmosphere of tension, betrayal, and fear that Moses creates both visually and through her script.
Overall, Bleed With Me is fascinating and haunting. While there isn’t extreme body horror or even violence, Moses tackles the breaking of boundaries between friends deftly and in a way that will resonate with anyone who has had a friendship destroyed by a manipulative person they once held dear. While the ending doesn’t come with a big cathartic pay-off, this disturbing take on vampirism is a must-watch.
Bleed With Me
Bleed With Me is fascinating and haunting. While there isn’t extreme body horror or even violence, Moses tackles the breaking of boundaries between friends deftly and in a way that will resonate with anyone who has had a friendship destroyed by a manipulative person they once held dear. While the ending doesn’t come with a big cathartic pay-off, this disturbing take on vampirism is a must-watch.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.