It’s the rare cabin in the woods that doesn’t feel cursed in Amelia Moses’ “Bleed With Me,” at least until Rowan (Lee Marshall) and Emily (Lauren Beatty) walk into it. The place is foreign to both, even when it’s been in Emily’s family for years, though she’s been reluctant to go there since tragedy struck, a fact unbeknownst to Rowan when her new friend from work invites her up for a weekend to join her and her boyfriend Brendan (Aris Tyros). For Rowan, who can’t ever seem to get enough sleep, an excursion surely sounds nice.
Even after the fireplace gets going, Rowan and Emily never feel cozy in “Bleed with Me,” but that’s because the two never feel entirely comfortable in their own skin, with the latter’s invitation to Rowan likely stemming from helping to fend off a creepy co-worker at an office Christmas party and Rowan never taking entirely to the role of being cared for as Emily would like. It’s a dynamic that makes Moses’ debut far more horrific than than a more bloodsoaked affair might be, though “Bleed with Me” naturally has a little of the red stuff too as Rowan begins to wake up with small deep cuts appearing on her left arm in the morning, happening so inauspiciously that it takes Brendan to notice.
Moses leaves no doubt what genre “Bleed With Me” takes place in, but she finds ways to shrewdly subvert it, having Rowan wonder whether if she’s crazy to think Emily is somehow responsible for her worsening condition, but expressing viscerally how reality is made worse by her imagination when the trope of snapping out of a dream often leads to a sight that’s so much more unsettling. With cinematographer René Arseneau slipping into Rowan’s somnambulant perspective every once in a while, as if seeing the world through the bottom of a foggy Coke bottle, the weight of the world can actually be felt on Rowan’s eyelids as she fights to get clarity on not just whether she’s become an unwitting victim, but how she feels about it.
Marshall is appropriately world-weary as Rowan while Beatty plays the calm and composed Emily to a tee, allowing the revelations to come in Moses’ meticulous script to always be grounded in the small nuances of what’s come before, and recognizing the terror that drives both characters is what becomes the most fascinating aspect of “Bleed With Me,” as the world around them bends towards a poisoned worldview. The writer/director may have just three actors and a house at her disposal, but she is constantly finding new territory to explore with all the dark corners in the cabin less fearsome than the ones she finds in the mind. It’s an impressive showcase for Moses’ technical prowess, but perhaps even more so for its wise take on a grass-is-always greener tale served cold in the snow.