Review: ‘Bloodthirsty’ (2021), starring Lauren Beatty, Greg Bryk, Katharine King So, Judith Buchan and Michael Ironside

October 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Lauren Beatty in “Bloodthirsty” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“Bloodthirsty” (2021)

Directed by Amelia Moses

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed part of Canada, the horror film “Bloodthirsty” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one biracial/Asian person) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A semi-famous singer-songwriter is invited to work on her second album with a mysterious producer at his home studio in a remote wooded area, when she finds out that she is a werewolf. 

Culture Audience: “Bloodthirsty” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in low-budget, “slow burn” horror movies that don’t do anything groundbreaking but can convey a creepy and foreboding atmosphere.

Lauren Beatty in “Bloodthirsty” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

Simple yet effective, the werewolf horror movie “Bloodthirsty” takes its time to build to the inevitable transformation scene. This movie is not for impatient viewers, but it offers an interesting allegory about how the quest for fame and fortune can consume people. With only a handful of people in the movie’s principal cast, “Bloodthirsty” won’t satisfy horror fans who are looking for a movie where a werewolf goes on a massive killing spree. Instead, “Bloodthirsty” is more of a psychological portrait of how a woman slowly comes to terms with the reality that she’s turning into a werewolf.

Directed by Amelia Moss, “Bloodthirsty” is a Canadian film that was written by mother-and-daughter duo Wendy Hill-Tout and Lowell. The movie has some parallels to real life, because main character Grey Kessler (played by Lauren Beatty) is a semi-famous, piano-playing pop singer/songwriter in her 20s who’s under pressure to follow up her hit debut album with a second album that’s a even bigger hit. In real life, Lowell is a pop singer/songwriter (she wrote and co-wrote some of the original songs in “Bloodthirsty”) whose first album wasn’t a hit, but she used her anxiety-ridden experiences of recording her second album as a basis for the angst that Grey feels in “Bloodthirsty.”

In the beginning of “Bloodthirsty,” which takes place in an unnamed part of Canada (the movie was actually filmed in Edmonton, Alberta), Grey comes home to her live-in girlfriend Charlie (played by Katharine King So) after doing a photo shoot. Charlie is a painter who is completely supportive of Grey and her career. Grey is openly queer and isn’t hiding her relationship with Charlie, but she’s careful about not exposing too much about her relationship to the world. At the photo shoot, a reporter (played by Jesse Gervais) asked Grey when she and Charlie plan to get married. Before cutting the interview short, Grey’s response was: “We want to keep our relationship private.”

Grey has other things on her mind besides questions about her private life from a nosy journalist. She’s been having nightmares about turning into an animal and eating other animals that she has killed. In these nightmares, she savagely eats these animals raw, as she tears at their flesh, and her mouth is covered with blood. Grey is also a vegan, so these nightmares have an extra layer of terror for her.

Grey’s psychiatrist Dr. Swan (played by Michael Ironside) has tried different treatments for her, but none seem to have worked so far. At a recent session with Dr. Swan, he suggests that they try cognitive behavior therapy next. In the meantime, Grey is on medication to treat her nightmarish hallucinations. An early scene in the movie shows Grey looking into a mirror and briefly eeing that her eyes’ irises have turned yellow, like a wolf’s eyes. Later in the movie, she has visions of her nails turning into long, yellow canine nails.

After coming home from the photo shoot, Grey tells Charlie that a famous but reclusive middle-aged music producer named Vaughn Daniels (played by Greg Bryk) has invited her to his mansion, where he has a home recording studio, because he wants to record Grey’s second album with her. Charlie looks up Vaughn on the Internet and sees that more than 20 years ago, he was acquitted of the murder of a singer in her 20s named Greta Sturgis, who had been working with Vaughn in his home on her album. Vaughn was Greta’s mentor.

Charlie expresses her concern to Grey about Grey working with Vaughn , but Grey dismisses her concerns by saying that Vaughn was found not guilty, and he’s too important of a producer for Grey to pass up a chance to work with him. And so, Grey and Charlie drive to Vaughn’s spooky mansion that’s in a remote wooded area. (Aren’t they all in horror movies?)

This trip takes place during the winter when there’s snow outside, which means that there will be an inevitable scene later in the movie when someone’s car gets stuck in the snow. On the way to Vaughn’s mansion, Grey (who is driving her SUV) accidentally hits and kills a rabbit on the road. Grey is mortified, but there’s nothing she can do about it.

And why is Charlie on this trip? As Grey tells Vaughn when they show up to stay at his place at his invitation, Charlie hopes to get some inspiration for her artwork. Vaughn is a bachelor who lives in the mansion with his loyal housekeeper/cook Vera (played by Judith Buchan), who seems to be his only servant. In other words, this is a low-budget movie, so don’t expect to see any other servants on the property.

Vaughn is every bit as creepy as you would expect him to be, but Grey is eager to impress him. When she plays him a song that she’s been working on, he tells her: “I think your writing is good. It could be better.”

Most of the movie is about Vaughn and Charlie working on the album (the songs are solemn piano-based ballads) while he tests her limits on what she’s willing to do for him. In the first test, Vaughn tells Charlie to run outside in the snow and cold temperatures as fast as she can until she can’t move anymore. She doesn’t go far before she runs out of breath.

Vaughn catches up to her quickly, without showing any signs of physical exertion. He doesn’t answer Grey’s question on how he could move so fast without being winded. It’s the first of many obvious clues that Vaughn might not be who he first appears to be. Eventually, Vaughn (who says he’ll never give up eating meat) pushes vegan Charlie’s boundaries when it comes to dead animals.

Later in the movie, when Grey is playing the piano, Vaughn sidles up next to her and starts sniffing. He says, “I can smell it all over you—something animal. You need to use that. It’s what makes you special.” This movie is not subtle at all.

Grey grew up in foster homes and had a fairly unhappy childhood. Not much is said about Grey’s family background except that her mother abandoned her when she was a baby. Vaughn knows this information and uses it to emotionally manipulate Grey.

Meanwhile, Charlie grows increasingly uncomfortable with being in Vaughn’s mansion. Charlie and Grey argue about it because Charlie wants to leave, while Grey wants to stay. Charlie says to Grey about Vaughn: “He’s a psycho!” Grey responds, “He’s an eccentric!” Charlie says, “He scares me!” Grey replies, “You know what scares me? My second album flopping!”

And what about the mystery over the death of Vaughn’s former protégée singer Greta? Vaughn tells Grey that he witnessed Greta shoot herself, and that was his defense that got him acquitted. However, is that what really happened? Secrets are eventually revealed which aren’t too surprising to people who’ve seen enough horror/thriller movies.

“Bloodthirsty” has visual effects and sound editing that are convincing, consdering the movie’s low budget. All of the performances are better than some of the simplistic dialogue in the screenplay. If you don’t like movies where people have a tendency to talk and move slowly, then “Bloodthirsty” isn’t the film for you.

The movie’s original songs written or co-written by Lowell are actually quite good and sound like music that moody pop divas would be recording. The songs are “Lemonade,” “No Talk,” “Psycho” and “God Is a Fascist.” People who like music from singers such as Billie Eilish, Lorde or Fiona Apple would probably enjoy Grey’s music.

The creation of Grey’s second album runs parallel to Grey’s transformation, so it can be seen as a metaphor for her metamorphosis of her identity as an artist as well as a sinister creature. The story is more than about the creative process though, because Grey could’ve created these songs on her own. Through a horror movie context, “Bloodthirsty” puts forth an incisive commentary about artists’ pursuit of being rich and famous to validate themselves, no matter what the cost.

Grey sees warning signs that Vaughn is evil, but she wants to keep working with him anyway. In that sense, “Bloodthirsty” doesn’t just apply to someone who turns into a werewolf. It’s also about someone who loses humanity when there’s an unquenchable hunger for fame, even if it means destroying other people in the process.

Brainstorm Media released “Bloodthirsty” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on April 23, 2021. The movie is also available for free streaming on Tubi and Vudu.