Critically-acclaimed psychological thriller “Bleed With Me” redefines co-dependent friendship. After premiering at the Fantasia Film Festival, “Bleed With Me” screened closing night at the virtual Nightstream Film Festival.
Jealousy, competition, and a smidgen of Munchausen syndrome by proxy make up writer-director Amelia Moses’ hauntingly sinister feature debut. Bleed With Me lets the story of self-destructive Rowan (Lee Marshall) and her supposed best friend Emily (Lauren Beatty) slowly trickle out, the wound of their uneven friendship growing as Rowan becomes convinced that Emily is stealing her blood. While Rowan seeks acceptance from Emily and her boyfriend Brendan (Aris Tyros) during a remote cabin getaway, a series of nightmares and hallucinations drive Rowan further into a state of paranoia.
Moses and lead actors Marshall and Beatty sat down with The Knockturnal from their respective homes in Montreal and Toronto to discuss the inherent power dynamics within female friendships, premiering during the pandemic, and never giving up.
The Knockturnal: Amelia, what was your inspiration for writing Bleed With Me?
Amelia Moses: I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of money to make my first feature so there was definitely a budget aspect of it. I was thinking of something quite simple that I could do. I liked the idea of the dynamic between a couple and a single person in an isolated location, and that kind of worked budget-wise too with a minimal cast and a single location. I also knew I wanted to pursue something from a single perspective with an unreliable narrator. And then the blood letting thing, I didn’t really know how that came about. I guess I was thinking of kind of looking at this relationship between those two women, and it felt like a very disturbing but kind of intimate act as well, which I thought tied nicely into some of the themes I was trying to explore.
The Knockturnal: Speaking of themes, both Lauren and Lee do such fantastic jobs in their performances. The characters really speak to this tension in female friendship, the compromises and balance of taking care of one another with a somewhat motherly instinct. I would love to unpack the intersectionality not only of the gender relations but diving deeper into the storyline. For Lauren and Lee, what was your process stepping into your respective roles? How did you humanize your characters, or empathize with their experiences?
Lauren Beatty: I think what struck me right away was just this side of female friendship that you don’t see too often and just the anxieties that come along with friendship sometimes. In Rowan and Emily’s case, those anxieties are very different. I think for my character, my anxieties are that I’m worried I’m not going to be needed. I’m worried about not having people to take care of. Then I think for Rowan’s character, she’s anxious about people not liking her and not being accepted. Those two anxieties lend themselves to each other in a way. My initial interest was playing a character who is a bit, not demonized but she’s seen as the bad guy in Rowan’s perspective at certain points in the film, and that’s never really a type of role that I’ve played before. I was really interested in exploring something a bit more sinister. It’s interesting because the film is really shot from Rowan’s POV, so for a lot of the scenes, I was subconsciously acting in a way that I thought Rowan was seeing me. Then for some scenes when it was a bit more emotional, I really just let myself sort of sink into Emily and what I think was actually going on for her in that moment. It was such an amazing experience. Working with Lee too was a dream. It was so amazing to play opposite her and feed off her raw emotion too…literally.
Lee Marshall: It was super fun working with Lauren. I had such a fun time in general on set. Even though the character is going through a really horrible time, I had a lot of fun so that was an interesting experience. What drew me to the character, I guess I’ve always wanted to make stories and tell stories that scare me a little bit. I don’t just in the horrific way, but I look at a role and I’m like “oh shit I don’t know if I can do it well or if I can do it justice.” I think those challenges are what we should strive for and lean into that fear. Otherwise we’re not pushing ourselves as creators and we’re not doing anything new, so the fact that I was a bit scared and overwhelmed by it was a good sign for me and partially why I wanted to do it. But to be honest, I would have wanted to do anything that Amelia wanted to make with me. She wrote the script and was like “do you want to do this?” and I was like “I don’t even need to read it to know that the answer is yes.”
The Knockturnal: What was production like?
Amelia Moses: We shot over 17 days, so we were in that cabin location for about 14 days and then a couple days exterior. The bathroom stuff we actually shot in Montreal because the cabin we shot at didn’t really have a bathroom where we could have a bloody shower. I think it was a tough shoot logistically just because everything you see in the film was very much what we were going through in production: all that snow, even the cabin was on top of this hill which normally wouldn’t be that hard to bring gear up but because it was in winter, there was so much snow and ice that it had piled up. So it was really difficult just to get the gear up. I remember on the first day of loading in, I was like, “have I made a terrible mistake by choosing this location?” The first day we arrived there was no running water because the well had frozen, so there was no running water in that cabin for three weeks. So just things like that, but in the end it really worked out. As soon as we started shooting I was like “oh yeah, I’ve chosen the right place” because that location had such atmosphere and it was totally a weird place to spend three weeks but kind of good to get into the spirit of the film. We were a small crew too. I don’t think we would be able to fit more than the people we had in that cabin too because it was pretty small. I think the crew had about 15 people, plus cast. So yeah it was a tough shoot just because of the time of year and the location, but it was a really good group of people and everyone was in it for the long run.
Lee Marshall: I feel like the challenges make it more interesting. There is always something on a set, but when you’re working on something that’s a bit more funded and commercial–and you’re coming on just as an actor–everything is taken care of for you. Yeah, that’s cool, but there’s something really fun about roughing it and having that bonding experience with the crew, feeling a bit more on the same level with them. A lot of times on sets actors are sort of separated from the crew and there was not the literal space to do that. Everyone just kind of hung out together, ate together, and it was just cozy.
Lauren Beatty: I totally agree. I think it was really actually an awesome experience to be so close to everyone and just experience it together. Now we have these insane and hilarious stories to tell about the making of this film. Also I had a broken leg the whole time, so they had to not only bring the gear up in a sled, but also me. So everyday it was up and down in this sled. The crew was amazing. They got me up and down every day. That’s why i have a limp in the film. Amelia ended up having to write it in because it was so prominent. It was quite the experience.
Amelia Moses: I read in someone’s review– I can’t remember where– but they said something like “Amelia Moses used natural light” and I was like, “um, no. There was somebody outside whose hands were freezing off trying to reposition that light!” There was one scene and that was only because the power went out and we had to pivot our first day and screwed up the shot list. That was a really funny to comment to read, that it was all natural light. It was negative 30 Celsius. That’s like well below zero and freezing, like you can die, and there were people outside, risking their lives for us.
Lee Marshall: And because it’s low budget, everyone is doing triple or double duty as well, which means everyone is working twice as hard as doing more than one job.
The Knockturnal: Lauren and Lee, did you incorporate the twist ending when approaching your characters? What was it like getting into those mindsets?
Lee Marshall: A good acting coach told me once– and I think this is great advice for anyone, anywhere telling a story– but you can’t play the end at the beginning. Basically wherever you have to end up, get as far away from it at the beginning as you can because it gives you more of an opportunity to go on a journey as a character. For me, definitely playing Rowan, at the start of the film she’s like “this is going to be the best weekend of my life! I’ve finally got in an in with my BFF, we’re going to level up our friendship. There’s a slight glitch with the boyfriend being there, but I’m going to win her over and solidify this situation.” So yeah, she’s very optimistic at the beginning. She has no idea what’s in store.
Lauren Beatty: I think personally I played Emily in the moment. A lot of scenes I was playing her sort of from Rowan’s POV or how I thought she was perceiving me in that moment, so I didn’t really bring the ending with me scene to scene. I think Emily’s character in real life is just as shocked by the ending. I think she expected a very different outcome from her friendship with Rowan. But also because it is ambiguous in a sense, there’s a lot to be left up for interpretation. I think I just knew the whole time the audience was going to take from it what they took from it and they were probably going to have discussions about it and try to figure out it for themselves. That was actually what was really cool to me about this film when I first read the script. It doesn’t give all of the answers to the audience. It doesn’t assume that you’re stupid and it let’s you really try to figure things out for yourself. That’s what I love about movies; I love having conversations afterwards. I tried to play it kind of ambiguous as well to sort of lend to that.
The Knockturnal: And the audience really doesn’t know how it’s going to conclude until the very end. What has it been like on the festival circuit with audiences virtually watching the film?
Amelia Moses: It’s hard to say because this is my first feature so I don’t really have a benchmark for how it’s supposed to go. I had a short film that played at a few festivals but I think it’s very different for a feature film. It’s going to have a lot more opportunity to have a life. I really thought this year would be a big traveling year for me and that obviously didn’t pan out. I think now that festivals are more into it and this is more the norm, I think really good things are coming out of [going virtual] and a lot of festivals are doing a really good job of pivoting but still keeping that spirit up. Obviously, there’s a lot more online engagement. I think when Fantasia Film Festival was going to be online–where we had our world premiere– that was a really big blow but obviously, it was the right decision for the festival and Montreal. Everything you do as a filmmaker is just to be in that dark room with the audience and the big screen and everything, so I was so excited to have that moment, especially at Fantasia which is a festival that’s meant a lot to me over the years. I think that was hard initially but I think that festivals are doing a lot with what they can, and it brings into question the theatrical experience at all moving forward. But I feel a little too depressed to think about that.
Lee Marshall: I’ll put some silver lining on it. We have to stay a little positive. I feel a little of what Amelia’s feeling for sure. It was not the year we expected in any single way, not just about the film but in general. I’m actually super happy, I came on as a producer of the film a little later during post-production and we had the conversation back in November last year to start thinking about distribution. We really set ourselves up for success not knowing what was going to happen in March. Having those conversations with distributors really early before the festivals was a godsend because we got a great American distributor on before our premiere and now we signed with a Canadian one. It just was the right momentum for this year because now we’re looking at festivals for sure and I’m super excited about the online ones because people wouldn’t normally watch the film now do get to watch the film– like my grandparents and random high school friends which is kind of surprising but cool. There’s a lot of positives. A wider audience is a good one and I think in general, filmmaking and entertainment is moving online and streaming so maybe this is the natural step for festivals. I would be surprised if it goes back to exactly the way that it was ever again. I think an online component is a great idea and if we can go back to theatrical as well, awesome. But I think they can work together really well to expand your audience and reach.
The Knockturnal: What’s next for all three of you in your respective careers?
Amelia Moses: My second feature [Bloodthirsty] which stars Lauren premiered at Fantastic Fest last week. I don’t know where that project is going next because I’m just the director for that, but it might be playing at Blood in the Snow festival in Canada in December which is exciting.And then I might take a little break. But lee and I have projects that we’re going to work towards soon.
Lee Marshall: The main thing we’ve been working on is a really cool creature-feature concept that Amelia and I are contributing to on a production and creative basis. I think making plans this year has kind of turned upside down. I had a lot of plans in the works that kind of reassessed or reevaluated the timelines for. Not giving up anything but just balancing reality with my dreams, as we all are.
Lauren Beatty: Same as Lee. I have a couple of projects I’m working on personally. I have a short film that I’m co-writing and producing and starring in with a friend of mine, and then also a feature film that’s a mockumentary about Woodstock. Same as Lee, i’ve kind of had to rejig the timelines for things and reevaluate what’s going on. But I’m not giving up on anything!
“Bleed With Me” screened at Nightstream Film Festival on October 11th.