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.

Review: ‘My Spy,’ starring Dave Bautista, Chloe Coleman, Kristen Schaal and Ken Jeong

June 26, 2020

by Carla Hay

Chloe Coleman and Dave Bautista in “My Spy” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“My Spy” 

Directed by Peter Segal

Culture Representation: Taking place in Chicago and Virginia, the action comedy “My Spy” has a racially diverse cast of characters (Asian, African American, white and Latino) representing the middle-class and criminal underworld.

Culture Clash: A bumbling CIA operative is “blackmailed” by a 9-year-old girl to teach her how to become a spy.

Culture Audience: “My Spy” will appeal mostly to people who like dumb, cartoonishly violent comedies that are entirely predictable.

Chloe Coleman, Parisa Fitz-Henley and Dave Bautista in “My Spy” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“My Spy” (directed by Peter Segal) is one of those comedies that people know will be mindless from beginning to end. There’s hardly anything funny to be found in the movie’s trailer, which is an indication of how bad the movie is if the trailer can’t even highlight any good scenes. But what might really disappoint people is how boring this action comedy really is. Dave Bautista (the movie’s “tough guy” title character) is outshone in many scenes by his co-stars, including Chloe Coleman and Parisa Fitz-Henley, who play the daughter and mother who inevitably warm this dimwitted lug’s heart.

“My Spy” was written by brothers Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, a screenwriting duo whose previous credits include 2018’s “The Meg” and 2012’s “Battleship.” In other words, their specialty seems to be writing dumb action movies. But a dumb action movie can be entertaining if there’s plenty of action. “My Spy” falls very short of that expectation, as the movie’s pace gets dragged down when the main character starts dating a single mom and starts acting like a domesticated stepfather.

In “My Spy,” Bautista plays lovable dolt Jason “JJ” Jones, a CIA operative who keeps messing up his missions. JJ (who’s an ex-Special Forces agent) does it in the film’s opening scene, which takes place at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine. There’s a big fight sequence that ends with explosions, the bad guys defeated, and JJ in possession of a plutonium pit that has the power to save or destroy the world. (Don’t they all, in movies like this?)

JJ drives off in his Jeep, listening to Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time,” as he basks in his victory. When he arrives at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, he is greeted with a standing ovation by his co-workers. But JJ’s glory is short-lived when he’s informed by his boss David Kim (played by Ken Jeong, playing yet another in his long list of “cranky” characters) that there were actually two plutonium pits, and one of the bad guys named Azar Ahmad (played by Ali Hassan), who got away at the nuclear power plant, has the other plutonium pit.

Meanwhile, David tells his team about an elusive criminal named Victor Marquez (played by Greg Bryk), an illegal arms trader who has recently been dealing in nuclear arms. Victor is so ruthless that he murdered his brother David because they were feuding with each other. Victor is believed to be working with a terrorist named Hasan (played by Basel Daoud), and the CIA thinks that the plutonium pit will find its way to Victor, who will probably sell it to Hasan.

JJ is excited about being assigned the mission to track down Victor. But his hopes are dashed because his boss David is fed up with JJ’s bungling and doesn’t want to give JJ a chance to correct his mistakes. David humiliates JJ in a group meeting by giving this coveted Victor Marquez assignment to JJ’s colleague Christina (played by Nicola Correia-Damude), and assigns JJ to “demotion” surveillance duty in Chicago. (It’s the equivalent of a homicide cop being assigned to traffic duty.)

JJ won’t be alone for this grunt work. His partner is Roberta “Bobbi” Ulf (played by Kristen Schaal, playing yet another goofy-but-nice character), who is very by-the-book. In other words, she’s more responsible than JJ. Bobbi and JJ go to Chicago, where (to JJ’s disappointment), they find out that they have to spy on a widow named Kate (played by Fitz-Henley) and her precocious 9-year-old daughter Sophie (played by Coleman), who live in a modest apartment.

JJ and Bobbie, who are doing surveillance duty in a nearby apartment on the same floor, are puzzled over why they have the boring task of spying on this innocent mother and daughter. However, it’s pretty obvious to viewers that Kate (who’s an emergency-room nurse) and Sophie aren’t just random characters in this story, especially when it’s revealed that they recently moved to Chicago to start a new life after Sophie’s father died.

Sophie is smart but she’s an outcast at school. One day, Sophie finds some of the surveillance equipment in her apartment and discovers that JJ and Bobbi are CIA agents who are responsible for the spying. And Sophie has the evidence on video that she recorded on her phone.

JJ and Bobbi are terrified that this kid will blow their cover, so they let Sophie “blackmail” them. She tells them that she won’t release the video if JJ will teach her how to be a spy. It’s clear within the first few minutes of JJ and Sophie’s interaction with each other that what Sophie really wants is a father figure and a protector, since she’s lonely and having a hard time making friends at school.

The action comes to a screeching halt when long stretches of the movie consist of JJ hanging out with Sophie, and JJ and Kate developing a romance. Bobbi disapproves of this breach of protocol, but she’s more afraid of being exposed as a spy by Sophie than whatever ethics policies that JJ is breaking. Of course, this movie is so stupid that it wants viewers to believe that even though JJ is considered to be an untrustworthy screw-up by his boss, no one from the CIA bothered to check up on JJ in Chicago.

Therefore, when JJ hangs out with Sophie or Kate in public, he’s not exactly “undercover.” Although Fitz-Henley and Coleman have convincing chemistry together as mother and daughter, the “romance” chemistry between Fitz-Henley and Bautista isn’t very convincing. Coleman’s Sophie is both charming and bratty, but the movie’s script is so poorly written that the character barely rises above the generic “smart aleck” kid that’s been seen in many other movies.

And since JJ is supposed to be “tough on the outside and tender on the inside,” he’s socially awkward when it comes to dating. It just so happens there are two apartment neighbors in the building who come to JJ’s rescue to help him with grooming, wardrobe and romance advice: gay live-in boyfriends Carlos (played by Devere Rogers) and Todd (played by Noah Dalton Danby). A running joke in the film is that Carlos is the sassy motormouth, while Todd is the type who doesn’t like to talk. Todd literally does nothing but grunt in the movie, but this gag gets old very quickly.

The action scenes in “My Spy” are also cringeworthy, especially those involving explosions. Characters walk too close to explosions, which look like cheap visual effects. In real life, these people would be knocked down or severely burned if they walked that close to an explosion, not to mention the damage to their lungs from inhaling all that noxious smoke.

STX Entertainment was originally going to release “My Spy” in theaters, but the company dumped the movie by selling it to Amazon Prime Video. It’s easy to see why this dud isn’t worth the price of a movie ticket. With long spans of the film bogged down in the would-be “stepdad” subplot, “My Spy” fails to deliver a suspense-filled action story. In that regard, the movie is very much like JJ—a lot of witless talk with a lot of bungling along the way.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “My Spy” on June 26, 2020.

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