Perry Blackshear’s new film When I Consume You would’ve been a splendid title for a Shudder cooking show: Creatures of the night gorily prepare expired ingredients using eldritch techniques perfected by the old gods themselves. But it suits the film nicely, too, adopting multifaceted malice as Blackshear judiciously doles out new plot bulletins minute by minute. “When I consume you” is a macabre declaration, then a threat, then a promise that carries the weight of inevitability. Your consumption is guaranteed—an assurance of doom rather than a possibility.
The “you” are the Shaw siblings, Daphne (Libby Ewing) and Will (Evan Dumouchel), survivors of a hardscrabble childhood now making their way as adults. Will, a scruffy, laconic wreck, leans on Daphne for constant support. Daphne, meanwhile, is sober going on five years, and while stability is a struggle, she’s on track toward getting her house in order. When Will finds her dead of an apparent suicide, he helplessly flails like a man drowning at sea, until, limb by limb, Daphne returns from the other side with a fuzzy memory and a desperate plea to her brother: Don’t confront her killer. Of course, he does, against her advice.
That’s all within When I Consume You’s first half-hour, structured carefully for atmosphere and to maximize spookiness. Blackshear gently eases the movie into full-on frightening territory, his highest priorities being character development and chilling foreshadowing. That delicate craftsmanship makes the smallest gestures toward genre, like Daphne directing Will from beyond the grave toward a stashed box of her personal effects, feel colossal. It’s a patchwork evidence trail disclosing vague minutiae of her life that might explain her death. Not long after, she emerges from under the bed, a mostly friendly ghost. It’s an odd but ultimately happy phantasmal reunion, where Dumouchel and Ewing cement their brother-sister chemistry and Blackshear ushers When I Consume You wholly into horror’s domain.
The shift is worth the wait, but the wait is worth itself, too. Blackshear blocks shot after shot as buttressing corroborative detail for the ways the Shaws relate to each other and to the world: One moment, he’s filming them in a wide-angled bird’s eye view as they smoke on her fire escape, emphasizing the gap between the building and adjacent train tracks to signal the siblings’ self-imposed distance from society; the next, the camera goes into handheld mode, juddering as they rush through the cacophony of a crowded subway platform. Even Daphne’s gradual resurrection is orchestrated with a sense of invention: Blackshear starts off with her hands gliding into frame, twice stopping Will from dialing 9-1-1, then dialing the number he needs to call to recover her possessions.
Working with microbudgets breeds creativity—demands it, really. Blackshear has a clear gift for making a lot out of a little. In horror, that gift goes a long way. When I Consume You has as many pleasures in its low-key moments before the movie’s true horror is revealed, before Will encounters an eccentric detective (MacLeod Andrews), who may or may not be who says he is, and before Blackshear, acting as his own cinematographer, props Daphne’s corpse against a wall—an honest shock rather than an abrupt twist. There is, in fact, so much to relish in Blackshear’s rich, spartan filmmaking that unpacking his aesthetic on paper risks giving away too much.
Like Blackshear’s other features, They Look Like People and The Siren, When I Consume You is best enjoyed with minimal foreknowledge. Let the basics suffice, but suffice it to say there aren’t many horror filmmakers who consider the genre with his sense of economy. There’s something to be said about humbly funded productions that achieve high aesthetic standards despite a relative lack of dough: When I Consume You packs an emotional wallop and looks stunning while spending peanuts compared to the average studio horror product.
Maybe more impressive is that, in a moment where seemingly every horror film is insistently and superficially about Trauma, When I Consume You evokes actual traumatic sensation. The Shaws went through hell as kids. They’re going through hell now as thirtysomethings. No matter how far they go or grow up, hell follows them and won’t leave them in peace. The simplicity of Blackshear’s style gives that dynamic space to breathe, denies the characters the same and then, rubbing salt into the wound, serves them up for dinner. A cruel fate, certainly, but couched in a beautiful, unsparing movie.
Director: Perry Blackshear
Writer: Perry Blackshear
Starring: Libby Ewing, Evan Dumouchel, MacLeod Andrews
Release Date: August 16, 2022
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.