The opening sequence of When I Consume You might be hard to stomach if you’re squeamish. A woman leans over a sink, heaving, spitting up blood, eventually pulling out a tooth. It’s a jarring way to start a film. The close-up and uncomfortable camera angle used here is something we will see again and again in the film during moments of distress — of which there are plenty. When I Consume You is the kind of film that might make you a little bit uncomfortable at times, or it might make you feel like you just got punched in the gut when you’re done watching it. Maybe somewhere in between.
When I Consume You begins centered around Daphne Shaw (Libby Ewing) and her brother Wilson (Evan Dumouchel). They’re a project manager and a janitor, respectively, which we learn about them when Daphne is in an interview looking to possibly adopt a child of her own. The fact that the two siblings had a rough childhood is referred to here, and not for the first time. We’ll eventually come to learn, that in more sense than one, the duo are haunted by their past.
Daphne and Wilson have a close friendship; they play a game together on Daphne’s fire escape with tarot cards, and she talks Wilson down from a panic attack. It seems these two have seen each other at their worst, like they’re the sort of siblings who know each other better than anyone else in the world. It’s a sweetness that contrasts with the dark reality Daphne and Wilson live in. When I Consume You isn’t gritty simply because it takes place in New York City. There’s a violence and a raw anger and hurt that permeates Daphne and Wilson’s lives.
When I Consume You leans in to moments of discomfort. It’s a meditative film about reckoning with grief, with fear, and with our pasts. We follow Wilson – sometimes through POV camera angles, sometimes through a hand-held shot running after him down the street – as he comes face to face with a tragedy, a mystery, and the realization that his sister actually didn’t tell him everything.
Wilson tasks himself with seeking vengeance for the crime he thinks he witnessed, and while he was previously aimlessly drinking and moving about through life, he begins to really work to improve himself physically. While Shaw and Dumouchel have great chemistry in their scenes together, there are some scenes where Wilson seems to take himself way too seriously, adopting sort of a Christian Bale Batman voice. These moments can take away from the dark atmosphere that the cinematography has orchestrated, but it shouldn’t be long before you’re pulled back in.
While When I Consume You may at first seem like a straight-forward story about coping with trauma and grief, there is an allegorical element of fantasy, and family lore. We never do find out what happened to Wilson and Daphne in their past, but that isn’t what’s important. They are people who are trying not to be defined by their trauma and their pasts, but it haunts them and won’t let them go. The way that the film personifies this trauma as a literal demon of sorts is beautiful.
When I Consume You is the sort of horror film that will stick with you. Not for the moments of gore and violence (although they are memorable), but for the tender story told here underneath the nightmare Wilson is trying to get away from. There is a balance between realism and fantasy that writer/director Perry Blackshear excels in; working with a barebones cast and crew in Brooklyn, there’s an intimacy and emotionality that is often missing from large productions. When I Consume You feels special; like the kind of film that doesn’t come around often.
The Fantasia Film Festival takes place in person and online from August 5 – August 25
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