INTERVIEW: Amelia Moses Talks Subverting Horror Tropes In ‘Bleed With Me’ (2020)

Still making the rounds at film festivals across the world, Bleed With Me has proven to be a noteworthy debut from writer/director Amelia Moses. Keenly aware of its place in the horror genre, the film offers a fascinating character study and an insightful subversion of “cabin in the woods” genre tropes. Moses delivers a psychologically complex film, set in an unnerving reality that is rife with tension all the way through. During its run with NightStream, I had a chance to review the film for Flip Screen before sitting down for a Zoom interview with Moses herself.

SR: I wanted to start by asking about the creative process for this film. Where did the story idea and the characters build from?

AM: The initial idea I had was very much trying to tell a story from a single perspective. Since it’s about how we can project narratives on to other people, I wanted to really tell the story from the main character’s perspective. She’s a bit of an unreliable narrator and that I think feeds into the tone and style of the film. From there the characters progressed in terms of, I liked the idea of this dynamic between a single person and a couple, because I thought there were some interesting interpersonal dynamics there, especially in an isolated location. So the horror aspects were always there. There was a version that was much more like, overt vampire movie, but then I realized that those are done a lot and I didn’t know what I was bringing to the table that was new. So I shifted it into this bloodletting scenario because it felt like a weirdly intimate, but also very disturbing act. I thought that that tied nicely into the themes of the film.

SR: In that process of revising and going through different versions of the story, what were some of the biggest changes and what were the core elements that always stayed?

AM: It didn’t change too drastically, because of the limitations with the location and characters. It was more about shifting things around and stuff. The core thing that was always there was the female friendship and with the final iterations of the draft, I worked with a really great script consultant and we really just focused on trying to let that relationship be at the forefront of the film.

SR: When crafting that relationship between Rowan and Emily, did it change from page to post-production?

AM: Yeah, initially the script focused more on Rowan and, obviously it’s still Rowan’s story, but Emily became a more complex character as the script writing continued and then definitely in the edit. It was a really big balancing act because Emily was the harder character in the edit. We were trying to find a nice balance between making her this loving, charismatic person so you’re really drawn into her, but also kind of terrifying and suspicious at moments. And again, it’s all from Rowan’s perspective, so that’s kind of how we looked at it. It was always like, ‘well, what is Rowan thinking at this moment?’ And then that kind of helps dictate decisions on set, in terms of how Lauren Beatty would play it, and also in the edit, trying to remember that it’s a very subjective film. So we were creating Emily, but through someone else’s perspective.

Rowan glares at something off camera.
Lee Marshall as Rowan. Image Courtesy of Telefilm Canada

SR: So with the story so focused on that Rowan-Emily relationship, how did you think of Brendan’s role in the film and the way that character functions?

AM: For me Brendan always existed as a kind of foil for the two women. I’ve seen some criticisms or comments about how his character is a bit more one dimensional, and I had that in the back of my mind, but it didn’t really bother me. I feel like so much of the time female characters are side-lined, so I was like, ‘I’m okay if the male character is a bit more on the outskirts.’ (laughs) But he was still really crucial as a foil for these characters and I feel like the film would go quite differently if it was just the two women in this cabin. Another thing that I was trying to look at was how sometimes when you know someone through their partner, it impacts the relationship. Like, you know, Rowan only knows Brendan through Emily and vice versa. So there’s an interesting dynamic at play because of everyone’s relationships to each other. So that’s a thing I wanted to look at, that I call the ‘hierarchy of intimacy.’ So like, Emily enjoys the fact that she is in the power position because she knows both these people better than they know each other. She’s the kind of person who enjoys being at the top of that pyramid because she likes to be in control and that’s a big part of her character.

SR: I was also curious about your thoughts on gaslighting in film. It’s becoming a concept we see again and again in horror, especially this year with The Invisible Man and The Lodge and even The Haunting of Bly Manor. I’m wondering what it is about gaslighting that you think makes it such a fitting premise for horror?

AM: Yeah! I have always been really interested in that kind of phenomenon, and it definitely seems like it’s very much in the cultural conversation right now — both on a global scale and in terms of personal dynamics. So obviously with the Me Too movement, gaslighting is something that can be gendered. It’s not exclusively gendered, but it can be, and it can be a trait that shows up in those kinds of abusive relationships. For me, what I was more intrigued by with this film was the phenomenon of Munchausen by proxy. So the idea that you are trying to like harm someone so that you can take care of them and feel better about yourself because you have to take care of them. That was like the key thing with Emily for me: she enacts that sort of dynamic where she is really hurting Rowan in order to keep Rowan there because she needs Rowan to need her. I thought that was a really fascinating disorder, and then gaslighting is a natural connection because you’re trying to convince someone that they actually are sick or unwell or whatever. So that was more where the gaslighting element came from, through the Munchausen by proxy concept.

SR: Sort of like gaslighting, the spooky cabin setting is another horror staple. How did you approach that and the idea of operating in a space that’s like so familiar to audiences?

AM: I think the joy of working with horror and genre films in general is that you can really subvert things and play with those expectations. Obviously as soon as you say a cabin in the woods film, people know what that is. There’s just traditional things that are gonna come into play with that kind of movie and you can either play into the tropes or subvert them. So, for example, with cabin in the woods films, the threat is usually external: there’s like the killer in the woods or something like that. I liked the idea of flipping that and making the threat internal.

SR: I haven’t seen your second feature Bloodthirsty myself, but I know that it shares at least a couple major elements with this film: the remote location, a supernatural being and, of course, Lauren Beatty. What do you think accounts for some of that repetition? 

AM: There were some things that were just like totally a coincidence, but when I read the script I was like, okay, I can kind of see why they’re interested in working with me because there were definitely some parallels with Bleed With Me. I don’t know if you know the plot, but it’s about a singer-songwriter who’s trying to write this album while struggling with writer’s block. What drew me to the project was this really interesting marriage of the creative process with horror tropes and horror imagery. I love horror films and I very much like working within that medium, but the biggest thing for me is always character and character relationships. So letting that be at the forefront of the film and the monstrous stuff be an extension of those relationships and that character. That’s what I wanted to bring to Bloodthirsty: how the monstrous side of this character is an extension of her ambition and artistic process.

SR: Do you consider yourself a horror film maker?

AM: Yeah, I would say so. Something I worried about with Bleed With Me was that it wasn’t enough of a horror film for some people because there’s elements of character drama and it’s not overly gory or scary. For me the idea was to make the tone unsettling and uneasy. What I love about horror is that it’s a huge spectrum of things and there’s so much you can do to explore within that. It’s this uncanny space where things can feel off or different and you can subvert and play into its tropes.

SR: Can you share some of your favorite horror tropes and sub genres?

AM: I really like cult and folklore. One of my favorite films is The Wicker Man, which is why the main character in Bleed With Me is named Rowan — it’s a reference to the little girl who disappears on the island. So that’s always been one that interests me with that element of isolation. I also like vampires and werewolf movies. An American Werewolf In London is like one of my favorite films as well. I don’t really go for the torture porn kind of films or anything that’s like too overtly violent. I do really love body horror, but I like when it’s an internal manifestation instead of someone else inflicting pain. So I’m a big Cronenberg fan. Like, I love Videodrome and The Fly. It’s something that you would never see in any other format or medium, so body horror has been a big influence for me. Neither of these films have it too much, but there’s still an element of that in Bloodthirsty.

SR: Do you feel like your upcoming projects will also be along the lines of horror?

AM: I have a project coming up that we’re still in development on, which is a horror comedy TV series with tentacle monsters. Again, for me, everything stems from character. I wouldn’t want to shoehorn something in just for the sake of it, but I think that horror can be an extension of character and I definitely want to keep working within those kinds of confines.

Bleed With Me will be theatrically released at Saskatoon Fantastic Film Fest on November 26th.

Header image courtesy of Telefilm Canada