When making a werewolf movie on a limited budget (which describes nearly all werewolf movies released these days), the power of suggestion can be a useful tool for a director to have in their kit. Add some growling to a tracking shot and the audience will fill in the rest. Whichever marginally defined character is being followed at that moment is likely being stalked by some unseen creature and the actor playing them probably won’t be showing up on the next day’s call sheet. The most that needs to be shown early on is a claw or hairy arm reaching into frame and taking the fatal swipe. Alternately, shooting the attack at night and from enough of a distance means it will register without forcing your actors to spend hours in the makeup chair. The trouble only comes when you have to stop suggesting and actually produce a werewolf — if that’s the kind of movie you’re making.
It takes a while to own up to it, but 2020’s Bloodthirsty — the sophomore feature for Canadian director Amelia Moses — is that kind of movie. True, screenwriters Wendy Hill-Tout and Lowell wait until the 11th hour for one of their characters to tell another, “We’re lycanthropes, shapeshifting humans,” clarifying the situation further by having them add, “Werewolves do terrible things. It’s our nature.” Also their nature: sprouting fangs and claws when they get keyed up, but not much hair to speak of. No use for that arm after all.
Another way Bloodthirsty is stripped down is by keeping the cast as small as possible, isolating its characters at the secluded mansion of ex-boy-band-member-turned-producer Vaughn Daniels (Greg Bryk), who has magnanimously offered to nurture the talent of up-and-coming singer-songwriter Grey Kessler (Lauren Beatty). Joining her is her painter girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King), who raises the first of many red flags when she Googles Vaughn and learns he was accused of murder two decades earlier, but Grey waves her off, saying he was acquitted. What’s discomfiting about this is it occurred while he was producing another album by another signer-songwriter whose portrait he keeps on the wall surrounded by candles like some kind of a shrine. And adding to the chilly atmosphere is his stern housekeeper Vera (Judith Buchan), who disappears for long stretches but is around whenever he needs her to procure an after-dinner snack.
Before it comes to that, though, the filmmakers keep things humming by showing Grey’s disturbing dreams and hallucinations, which she keeps in check with medication. Once Vaughn takes away her pills and gives the vegan singer her first taste of meat in years, though, her carnal appetites are awakened and her songs start to reflect her new perspective. “I can smell it all over you,” Vaughn tells her. “There’s something primal. You need to use that.” Suffice it to say, she does just that. Just maybe too little too late.