FANTASIA21 REVIEW: When I Consume You [2021]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 92 minutes
    Release Date: 2021 (USA)
    Studio: Ahab and the Dark
    Director(s): Perry Blackshear
    Writer(s): Perry Blackshear

I’m taking a lot of deep breaths.


Daphne (Libby Ewing) and Wilson Shaw (Evan Dumouchel) didn’t really have anyone growing up besides themselves and the same could be said now too. They cut out their parents years ago and did their best to dig out from under the trauma they endured, but it almost came crashing down five years ago courtesy of the former’s long-lasting drug addiction. They got through it, though. Together. And they have hope again thanks to Daphne’s dream of adopting a child to love like they never were and Wilson’s aspirations to turn his janitorial job into a teaching career to give kids the time they were never afforded. When those leaps forward become threatened by adversity, however, old feelings of self-loathing return along with menacing yellow eyes in the shadows.

We see the latter early on: two glowing orbs in the blackness of an open closet. Are they a demon? A nightmare? Who knows? Writer/director Perry Blackshear intentionally keeps their origins shrouded in mystery as he brings us into the Shaw siblings’ lives despite sprinkling in tiny details that can’t help but get our minds racing through the possibilities. Because with them comes the drawing of a torso torn in two. With that is a tattoo on Daphne’s wrist that could very well be an ancient symbol alluding to evil as either a means of acknowledgement or protection. Add our introduction to these characters being at opposite ends of a bathroom door while she pulls a tooth from her bloodied and bruised face and the danger seems real.

Much like Blackshear’s debut feature They Look Like People, When I Consume You does a wonderful job saying a lot with a little. We don’t need over-the-top gore or creature effects when scrawled writing on the wall, shaky camera chases, and extra loud foley can create the anxious and uncertain mood necessary to invest in a story about the unknown that toes the line between fact and fiction. Because while the owner of those eyes serves as the main question looming above the proceedings, there’s also the issue of whether we can trust Wilson’s state of mind once Daphne is found dead of an overdose. It’s one thing to believe his claims of seeing a murderer. It’s another to accept her presence by his side as a ghost.

I won’t lie and say it doesn’t initially come across as silly. Sensitive Wilson finding the person he believes killed his sister only to get beat-up to the point of yanking his own tooth from his jaw? Strong Daphne returning from the grave to guide her brother on a path of muscle and confidence building to prepare him for the next encounter? The ensuing montage is akin to a sports film with plenty of eggs being drunk raw. It provides the room to either engage with the blossoming revenge plot’s darkness or the sentimental route by picking Wilson up to help him move onwards and upwards towards a life people with his background generally never see. I wouldn’t have minded the latter, but the former proves much better.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the payoff to Wilson’s training is a physical battle that takes no prisoners en route to the inevitable truth of what’s occurring. MacLeod Andrews enters in a supporting role as a local detective and the occult becomes much more involved whether a result of necessity or comfort. The sequence putting Wilson and Daphne back on the street to hunt out her killer has some nice dread, a brief reprieve, and a sinister surprise by way of a raspy whisper and close-up mouth. Blackshear is all about creating a claustrophobic mood by way of sight and sound—his ability to turn a scene from generic conversation to cruel manipulation in an instant (on a shoe-string budget) is unparalleled.

Things do get a bit convoluted if for no other reason than there being less than twenty minutes to go when the truth finally arrives. That’s not a lot of time to wrap things up satisfactorily, especially when adding a random side character in Daphne’s yet unknown friend Dani (Claire Siebers) at the eleventh hour for reasons I still can’t quite grasp. The climax’s impact is enough to let most of that disappear once Wilson finally confronts what it is that haunts him, though. It’s a tense exchange with both physical and psychological consequences on multiple narrative levels. Because even though Blackshear eventually puts the spotlight on that which shouldn’t be possible, there’s still room to write it all off as delusion. It remains real to Wilson regardless.

And that’s When I Consume You‘s true success. Beyond its aesthetic and horror lies a poignant message about second chances. For so long Daphne has protected Wilson in ways he couldn’t imagine and seeing her dead could have been his downfall due to losing the opportunity to ever return the favor. Whether he’s able to do that for her via the afterlife or finish what she started by embracing the drive to help himself, it will neither be an easy road nor one that possesses a conclusion. Wilson will always be battling demons from his past and present. He’ll always be climbing uphill to simply start on even footing with those who don’t know his pain or struggle. Now he might finally have what it takes to prevail.


photography:
courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

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