by Robert Rosado, NRFTW Contributor
Indie director Perry Blackshear is firmly coming into his own as a distinct voice in contemporary horror. His feature debut, 2015’s They Look Like People, was a tense yet affecting look at a young man who either may be living with schizophrenia, or may be seeing some for the hellish beings they really are. Although Blackshear’s follow-up, 2019’s The Siren, was less potent in terms of provocation and suspense, 2021’s When I Consume You displays his craft in extremely refined form.
When tragedy befalls two adult siblings, they must go out into the night and hunt a demonic force that has been following and devouring them, piece by piece, since childhood. Libby Ewing and Evan Dumouchel give poignant, lived-in performances as Daphne and Wilson Shaw, whose lives to this point have been poisoned by addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts, and perhaps something more calculatingly sinister. Ewing and Dumouchel anchor the supernatural proceedings with their palpable connection, lending significant emotional weight to the film overall.
Wilson, prone to severe social anxiety, has never grown up. Well into his thirties, he is struggling to find a steady job and the motivation to better himself, not to mention still learning how to properly iron a shirt and arrange his necktie. Daphne, though several years younger, has been his ardent protector since childhood. In the midst of her own battle with drugs, she is also yearning to be a foster mother, as taking care of those more vulnerable has been her unspoken creed. The film opens with Daphne rushing into the bathroom, her mouth bleeding because of a tooth that has been knocked out. We do not understand yet what has happened to her, but this brief instance adds a more threatening context to her already dire conflicts.
As a filmmaker, what Blackshear excels at is intimacy. With that, he opts to film most of the siblings’ conversations in raw, tranquil medium shots, allowing the familial warmth of the actors and meditative power of the dialogue to come through. In contrast, Blackshear – also serving as cinematographer and editor – shows us a side of New York City that we rarely see in horror: the dimly lit bodegas, gated parks, cramped apartments, and foreboding back alleys of Brooklyn. These settings come off as safe and amicable in the daytime, but in the dark transform into an aerie for evil to hide.
The threat which follows Daphne and Wilson is drawn in imagery both familiar and abstract, innately chilling yet mysterious in its origins and motives. MacLeod Andrews, perhaps best known for his excellent performance in They Look Like People, is fantastic in a supporting role as a drunken cop who comforts Wilson at his most imperiled moment. Where this exchange leads is a harrowing turning point. In spite of the plot’s occult leanings in the final act, When I Consume You is ultimately about learning to stand on your own, separate from those who embolden you, no matter how destabilizing and scary it may be at first.
For those who appreciate psychologically driven horror, akin to Hereditary and Saint Maud, When I Consume You will give you ample reasons to tremble. Screened via the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.