'Bloodthirsty' Director Amelia Moses on Avoiding Common Werewolf Tropes and Subverting the Genre [Interview]

The werewolf forfeits its feral nature in the name of societal niceties. Three nights out of the month, authenticity peeks its shy head out from under the guise of a human exterior, but most of the time, a werewolf wears a mask, suppressing the more callous urges within. But what if, in order to achieve the impossible, one must give in to their darkest desires? What if the dreams of man cannot be reached until the traitor beneath one’s breast is granted room to roam free?

In Bloodthirsty, vegan singer-songwriter Grey (Lauren Beatty) goes to work on her second album with notorious music producer Vaughn Daniels (Greg Bryk). But as the album progresses, she starts to transform into a powerful beast with a thirst for blood, meat and the hunt. And this wild genre turn works, too, as you can read in our review.

I had the privilege of speaking with director Amelia Moses about her latest feature on behalf of /Film. In the interview, we discuss lycanthropy as an extension of an artist’s craft, inverting patriarchal symbols through the subversion of werewolf lore, avoiding common genre tropes, giving into your desires, making music that makes people feel haunted, and the cost that comes with reckless creativity.

This interview contains some spoilers for Bloodthirsty.

Bloodthirsty, your sophomore film, is a story about a singer working on her second album. Did you see certain parts of yourself reflected in the material you were harnessing, or what was it specifically that drew you to the script in the first place?

I definitely thought of that when I read it. I was like, this is ironic that this is my second project and she’s struggling with her second project in a different medium. What drew me to the script was the premise just felt really rich with themes in terms of the juxtaposition of this monster stuff that’s happening, and also the creative process, and her flourishing more as an artist. I thought that was a really interesting contrast that I was excited to explore on screen. So that was the main thing, just that connection between these horror elements and creature elements and then looking at the creative process.

If I remember correctly, there aren’t any shots of the moon in this movie – not a full moon, or any moon at all – was this a conscious decision?

Yeah that was intentional. I think there was a few times that the DP was like, “Oh there’s a full moon, we should film it,” and I was like, “don’t film it, I’m not gonna use it,” because obviously, this film has nothing to do with the full moon transformation. There’s a lot of choices separating itself from more traditional werewolf lore. I was like, let’s just not embrace any of the more regular images because they don’t really make sense in this universe anyway, or the rules of these creatures, which have more to do with transformation because of feeling or emotion or anger, rather than a lunar cycle. So yeah, I chose no moon shots.

Were there other tropes in particular you were looking to avoid?

I think actually, in the script, silver bullets were mentioned, and we didn’t end up doing anything like that. Because again, it just kind of felt like the film was so actively not really using a lot of the tropes, so it felt weird to throw them in there.

For so long, werewolf stories have been about men, and men trying to hide the beast within, and trying to conquer that, and basically just trying to hold back their ego and their testosterone. It’s ironic because I feel like it almost makes more sense for werewolves to be women because the physical changes that we go through with our bodies more closely mirrors the body horror experienced in those films.

For sure, and it’s funny, when I first saw Ginger Snaps, I was kind of like, I don’t know if the concept felt a little too, like, is this gonna work? The idea of tying it to menstruation, but then it worked so well in that film, so obviously that was an inspiration. But yeah, there’s not a lot of women werewolf movies because you’re right, it’s usually like a hairy man.

Did you always have a desire to make a werewolf movie? And if so, did you see yourself making one that featured women? Was that interest already there?

I mean interest was there in terms of like, I like those films, but I hadn’t actively thought about it in terms of my career until I read the script. It seemed like a good opportunity to explore those things and try to take a bit of a different approach with the look of the creature and the tropes we were talking about before. It’s interesting, another thing too, when I was watching other films to prepare for this, how much of the time the narrative is the lover or friend or whatever has to kill the werewolf, and that’s the conflict at the end of the film. Are they gonna have the wherewithal to kill their lover? Whereas with this film, it’s like the opposite. I don’t know if that was a conscious subversion from the writers, I don’t think it was, but I thought that was kind of interesting, how usually at the end, the werewolf has to die because they’ve kind of crossed the line and crossed humanity, so they shouldn’t be able to live, whereas this film is the opposite.

That is interesting, because I feel like a lot of werewolf stories are usually about suppressing the id, and not giving into your desires, but it seems like you almost brush up against that, and you rebel against that, like you want Grey to give in to her desires.

Yeah, you know, she kind of has to in order to be fulfilled as an artist, but it obviously comes with devastating consequences. I think I always liked the idea that the character does cross a line. I don’t know if we’re doing spoilers in this interview, but when she kills Charlie [Katharine King So], obviously, there’s no going back from something that horrific that you’ve done. Yet she’s now going to be fulfilled as an artist, so it’s like she gets what she wants, but obviously at a massive cost to her humanity.

I think it’s cool how you’ve brought werewolves into the world of artistry. I feel like the story of lycanthropes, it started out as this male dominated cautionary tale of beware the moors, and beware the moon, and then it was brought into the suburbs with movies like Ginger Snaps, and now you’re bringing it into the world of artists and their craft. I’m curious, what were the parallels between the two worlds that you were hoping to explore with this project?

As one thing develops or becomes better, she regresses on a different side. Her humanity is regressing while her art is beginning to flourish. That kind of juxtaposition is what I was going for, but the desire is the overarching thing, the desire to be successful or write good music or make good art, and also the desire to kill and eat people, which is slightly less relatable as a human. Nonetheless, that’s the kind of tie-in factor, her desire for these things, and embracing the darker side allows her to flourish more as an artist. It’s ironic, but to some extent, a little bit true that making art can be quite a selfish act, and it can distance you from those around you, which I think is shown through her relationship with her girlfriend, the way she starts to distance herself as she becomes more fulfilled in her art.

Yeah, like the werewolf side of her is kind of an extension of her art?

Yeah, for sure.

I love the music in this movie, not only because it’s really beautiful and I really want the soundtrack now, like I want that to be a thing, I want to buy it —

I think they are, it was told that I should say, if anyone asks about it, there is an EP of some of the songs, by Arts & Craft, which is the label that Lowell is with. So they will be released soon.

Nice! I’m glad to hear that. The music is so special and I think it helps illustrate that feral side of Grey as she becomes more animalistic over the course of the film. Some of the lyrics also point to the idea of monsters in excessive fandom. The lyrics in the song ‘Bloodthirsty’, in particular, show how rabid fandom can be, and how as an artist, people will always want a piece of you, and how it’s a little like being hunted.

Yeah for sure, I think that’s also kind of where Grey begins the film as well. Not just fans, but the journalists who are talking to her, or even Vaughn’s character. As much as he’s this kind of like, I want to help you unlock something, he’s also, to some extent, just as guilty as other people of wanting part of someone’s talent.

What was it like working with Lowell and the process of getting the music to the point that you wanted it to be for the film?

Lowell’s a very talented songwriter, so I definitely didn’t need to give her any direction, really. She co-wrote the script as well, most of the songs were already written when I got involved. I think ‘Bloodthirsty’ was written in pre-production though, just before we shot it, which is ironic, because now it’s the title track. As soon as Wendy and I heard that, we were like, okay, this is gonna be an important song in the film. My contribution was curating those songs and figuring out when to use what parts of the song and where, for all the recording studio scenes, and then trying to work with Lauren so that the songs felt like a work in progress. So that they didn’t feel like finished pieces until the very end. I think sometimes in films about music, they just write a song! And it’s perfect already! Whereas, I wanted to try to show more of a work in progress, and a creative process and a writing process. So, that was my goal with the music, was letting it feel unfinished at times.

What are you hoping people will take away from the music after watching the movie? What is the feeling, or the emotion, or thematically what are you hoping people will walk away with after hearing these songs?

In all of the songs, there’s a kind of dark beauty tonally, so I think that’s the biggest thing. The lyrics are present, but even if you’re not listening to the lyrics, they’re still very haunting and beautiful and dark, which I think the film has a similar tone as well, so I think that was what I found interesting about the music. You know, the lyrics are relevant, but I was never thinking about them too much. It was more just the feeling of them.

This is your second time working with Lauren Beatty and she just absolutely crushes it every time you two collaborate. Did you have her in mind when you read the script, or how did she come on board?

The casting process was pretty quick, so I definitely thought of her pretty quickly after reading the script, mainly because I knew she could sing. I think initially, we were looking for more singers who could also act, but I think maybe an actor who can also sing can be more beneficial, which is what we went with for Lauren. I knew she could sing, but I also knew she had released some music before. She released this song called ‘Gaslight’ a couple of years ago, and it’s a really, really beautiful pop song, so I knew she was able to be familiar with the songwriting process as well, which I thought was really cool. And then the fact that we had worked together before, I knew that Lauren is very good at delivering. She had very little time to prepare for this film and she learned all the songs in a week, and she had never played piano before and she learned all the songs on the piano. We shot all the recording studio stuff in the first week of shooting, so she had to do all the singing, and then the werewolf transformations, so she really got thrown into it. 

But she’s very good at just committing to that stuff, and because we had very little, even our practical effects for the werewolf are quite minimal, and then on top of that, we had no vfx or anything, so much of that animalistic feeling had to come from her as a performer, even with the prosthetics on. I knew she would be really good at embodying that monstrous side and really committing to doing it, and she totally did. She’s really great to work with.

The final shot of this film really stands out to me. You have this eerie existential shot of Grey at her piano, surrounded by darkness, and her reflection is mirrored on the lid of the piano, almost like she’s being split in two. It’s this chilling, lingering moment. I’m wondering why this specific shot was the last thing you wanted audiences to see.

We worked with a lot of different endings, like that wasn’t necessarily the ending that was in the script, but I think lingering on people’s faces is always interesting. Just that emotional beat, just like what’s the final beat for the character, and the final moment of their journey. There was something about Lauren’s performance in that moment that really summarized where she was at, that I thought worked. The piano scene was not supposed to be the final scene, so I didn’t actually put that much directorial intent in that scene, because it was more of a transition scene, but we were able to find a really nice moment from Lauren because she’s very talented, and I think it just really worked for her journey to be complete as a character.

Brainstorm Media is set to release Bloodthirsty in theaters and VOD on Friday April 23, 2021. The film will also be released on the same date across Canada through Raven Banner Releasing. 

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