A man lies in bed, his girlfriend asleep on her side; he stares at her nondescript back until she rolls over to face him, the shape of her body clearly visible but her features obscured in the night. There’s a hole where her face should be, a close and horrid darkness that’s impossible to identify — are shadows cast upon her, or is there something awful in the bed with him? He stares into the gaping void while the audience tensely waits for a jump scare, but one never comes. Instead, we’re left with the abyss.
This is the very first scene from filmmaker Perry Blackshear‘s first feature, They Look Like People, and it’s a masterful introduction to a filmography that frequently stares into the abyss with paranoia, melancholy, and horror. He followed that lo-fi gem with The Siren, a beautifully made romantic horror movie, and is now back with When I Consume You, his third feature film as writer, director, editor, producer, and cinematographer. He’s a collaborator by nature who has a kind of repertory company of actors and producers who work with him on each project, and this is certainly their darkest film, an excellent meditation on suffering and how to survive this thing called life.
Suffering Through Survival in When I Consume You
Because When I Consume You is very much about suffering and pain, it’s also Blackshear’s most direct genre project so far, embracing horror as a conduit for his themes and succeeding wonderfully. The film follows Wilson and Daphne Shaw, a brother and sister who have had an extremely difficult life. Daphne is now five years sober after a decade of self-destruction and is determined to help her brother get through life. Wilson is a quiet man, a janitor who suffers extreme panic attacks and who is obviously damaged, if not neurologically then certainly emotionally or psychically.
They are both trying to progress in their lives; Daphne is attempting to adopt a child, and Wilson (or Will) is hoping to be a teacher. People’s past demons rarely go away, however, and in the case of Daphne and Wilson, their own personal demons may be less figurative than most. These are haunted people in a way that moves from emotional metaphor to literal fact, but Daphne is determined to keep her brother safe even if it kills her.
Evan Dumouchel and Libby Ewing Shine as Siblings
The siblings have a beautiful relationship in When I Consume You, and it’s clear just how much they’ve had to rely on each other in order to get through the difficulties of life. Evan Dumouchel is a heartbreaking powerhouse as Will, playing a very different character than he’s used to in Blackshear’s other films. Heavily bearded and with perpetually sleepy, chafed eyes, Will is the kind of person who is both hopeful and naive enough to apply for a teaching position with only one year of college. He needs instructions on how to tie a necktie and shows up for his interview with a shirt burnt from trying to iron it. Surrounded by the cruelty of a big city, Will seems like one of the many souls who get lost in the cracks, doomed to be stepped on or stepped over for his entire life.
Libby Ewing, a newcomer to Blackshear’s little troupe, is excellent as Daphne, a very tough woman who is enduring great amounts of suffering and disappointment in order to fit into the world that constantly hurts her and every struggling, working-class person daily. Ewing plays Daphne in a way that visualizes her five years of sobriety, expressing the amount of resilience it takes to live a sober life with immense childhood trauma, constant financial difficulties, and a grown brother who shows up at three in the morning having panic attacks, not to mention an actual demon who wants her soul.
Perry Blackshear Tries to Find Meaning in Misery
It’d be a shame to spoil the very organic narrative twists of When I Consume You, but this also isn’t a film that relies upon surprise in order to win over its audience. This is a film that, unlike many movies with ‘shocking’ twists, can be watched repeatedly, with a plethora of fine details to suss out over time. The real spoiler for When I Consume You has nothing to do with its plot; the big surprise is just how emotionally painful, raw, and poignant it is for a movie centered on demons, ghosts, and the supernatural. Only a handful of recent horror movies have been able to capture suffering with such truth.
In many ways, When I Consume You is about the struggle to find contentment and acceptance amidst the miseries and pains of existence. This is probably why it frequently references philosophical, spiritual, or political texts that seekers have turned to for meaning, from The Heart Sutra to Franklin Roosevelt’s second inaugural address (“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little”), and especially the brilliant madman William Blake:
I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see.
I sought my God, but my God eluded me.
I sought my brother and I found all three.
Daphne is a seeker, someone who is trying to find meaning to fill the gaping void that drugs and alcohol once plugged up, that caliginous abyss Blackshear so often stares into with his films. Wilson becomes a seeker as well, but in a different way.
Perry Blackshear and the Cast of When I Consume You
The sibling relationship is the central focus of When I Can Consume You, and as such, Ewing and Dumouchel dominate the film. Ewing is subtly brilliant here and hopefully continues to work with Blackshear’s quasi-acting troupe, and Dumouchel is wonderful, as mentioned. However, another frequent collaborator with the director, MacLeod Andrews, shows up in a performance that’s sometimes comically manic, but also maliciously terrifying.
Andrews and Dumouchel play against type here, and their first encounter and subsequent conversation is one of the best scenes of the film. These are two actors who should be household names — extremely fluid and able to traverse a wide array of roles and inhabit any emotion naturally, the very underrated Andrews and Dumouchel are incredibly talented (and very handsome), able to improvise within character and take a more hands-on collaborative role.
Blackshear continues to be impressive on all fronts here. As a cinematographer, he’s brilliant at lighting nighttime scenes, knows exactly how to frame a shot to enhance fear, and is emotionally intuitive with close-ups. As an editor (alongside Or Ben David and Kevin Tran), he’s extremely efficient; he brings everything together so succinctly that he’s almost too efficient. An extra 20 minutes padded with longer takes (especially near the end) would not just give viewers more great material in an already great film, but also space out the final act a bit, providing more narrative exposition while also sitting longer with the character development.
As a writer, Blackshear continues to create some of the best characters in horror cinema. His characters are never merely narrative tools or hollow conduits for loudly scored jump scares, and When I Consume You continues his close attention to detail with a sparse group of characters. Of course, plenty of this is also credited to the phenomenal actors, who also serve as crew members to some degree; Blackshear’s films are truly independent, like these little summer schools free from studio interference, where a small group of passionate artists go out into the world to make something true and personally meaningful. Everyone is absolutely committed here, which is something that cannot be said of most films.
When I Consume You is Available on August 16th
Ultimately, When I Consume You is an utterly authentic film about pain and suffering that really feels (texturally and emotionally) raw and honest. It’s about coming to terms with the occasional hopelessness, malice, and misery of an often awful world (especially as the working class experiences it), and how to derive meaning and contentment from the struggle to live within it. It’s not easy, and the film isn’t always easy as a result. It can be a painful and dispiriting watch, but it is ultimately hopeful in a way that’s never pandering or simple. The hope derived in this film isn’t a nonchalantly prescribed anti-depressant, but rather a quiet invitation to life in the midst of suffering. Everything’s not going to be okay, When I Consume You seems to say, and that’s okay. We’ll get through it together.
From 1091 Pictures, When I Consume You is an Ahab and the Dark film produced by its cast (Perry Blackshear, MacLeod Andrews, Evan Dumouchel, and Libby Ewing) and available to stream through VOD platforms on Aug. 16th.