Rowan (Lee Marshall) doesn't really know if she should be here. She was invited up to a cabin the woods by her friend Emily (Lauren Beatty) who she knows from work - Emily rescued her from an uncomfortable situation, so she at least feels grateful. But on the drive up there, Rowan was mostly sleeping, exhausted by her psychological problems as much as the monotony of the journey, and now they are at their destination, she is afflicted by the sense she is a third wheel when Emily's boyfriend Brendan (Aris Tyros) is there too, and plainly did not expect this vacation to be accompanied by Little Miss Awkward over there. But what if there was an ulterior motive for asking Rowan along? What if there is something she has Emily wants?
Yes, it was oblique vampire movie time again, yet another variation of J. Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla where a female bloodsucker preys on a young woman while purporting to be her friend, except here the difference was that we are not so sure this is a vampire tale after all, for it could be that Rowan is seriously disturbed - she self-harms, so is no stranger to scars on her arms inflicted by herself - and her pal is entirely innocent. This "all in her mind" game was played out across a relatively brief running time (just under eighty minutes) but was quite happy to let its seemingly sedated protagonist stew until the big reveal at the end where we were able to put two and two together and make five as far as the plot was going to admit us into its oddly exclusive world.
After all, you were watching a film that just had three characters in it, evidently designed to keep costs low as it also used what looked like authentic locations of that cabin in the woods and indeed the snowbound forest around it to lend it a credibility: there may be something supernatural happening here, or there may not. If anything, writer and director Amelia Moses was too vague, keen to sustain her mystery to the point that not everyone was going to have the patience to stick with this to the grand finale and an image that sort of cleared things up, yet actually brought about some new questions. Not helping was that once you had established Rowan is growing convinced her host is stealing her blood, there was really only one twist Moses could have implemented, and it did not involve Brendan who was the third wheel in disguise.
What she did not do was make this a lesbian plot, as a male director might have done: the bond here is that women can bleed, and someone in that cabin is exploiting that fact. Every morning Rowan wakes up woozy with fresh wounds on her arm: could it be she was doing that to herself? What are we to make of an early scene where she cuts her finger while slicing vegetables and Emily makes a big deal of sucking on the nick to make sure the blood doesn't flow too much? Was she getting a taste, or is she being helpful? True, that bit is something of a cliché reaching back to Bram Stoker, but it does plant the seeds of doubt in the audience's mind. However, most of this was low key conversations - who was Rowan's stalker, possibly Emily? - and Marshall looking dazed as her role required, yet there was also a sense of the squeamish here, as they find dead rabbits apparently left by hunters hanging from the tree branches, and if you start to contemplate the blood running through your body as you watch, you would be in the right frame of mind to understand where Moses was coming from. Not a bad achievement on limited resources, but you have to like ultra-low budget horrors in the first place. Music by Dominic Caterina.
[Bleed With Me - Premieres 10 August 2021 **A Shudder Original Film.]