Perry Blackshear’s third feature, When I Consume You (2022), literalizes demons of the past for two siblings. Daphne (Libby Ewing) and her older brother Wilson (Evan Dumouchel) live scrappy lives in New York City. Nebulous childhood trauma ripples throughout. Substance abuse, anger issues, and trouble holding jobs haunt them both. When Daphne dies under mysterious circumstances, Wilson strikes out, convinced that it was no drug overdose as the cops think. Wilson puts together snippets Daphne left behind, helped along by her sudden reappearance as a ghost. The siblings must face down a demonic stalker (MacLeod Andrews) that Daphne has fended off since they were children. Both must confront how they have loved and failed each other during their lives, and survive the process.
With When I Consume You, Blackshear continues his lo-fi, guerilla filmmaking style on display in his previous efforts. Working as his own director of photography, Blackshear shoots When I Consume You on grainy film that calls to mind the best of grungy 1970s horror. That feeling expands as Blackshear embraces the New York City setting. Lots of grayed natural light, darkened alleyways, and dirty streets take full advantage of the locale. Blackshear films much of the story with a handheld camera, embracing shakiness that mirrors the siblings’ chaotic lives. Laid over the top, Blackshear and his team construct a gnarly sonic landscape. Teeth breaking. Clocks ticking. Sirens blaring. All of the sounds are amplified and placed to heighten emotion and grate at any fleeting sense of calm. Altogether, Blackshear’s creative choices turn the film into a dream of indie horror aesthetics.
The clearest examples of where Blackshear’s approach shines come in the scenes that pit the siblings against the demon. Shrewd framing and inventive editing slip in glimpses of terror throughout the film, bread-crumbing our way to the full-on confrontations. A disembodied hand jumps into the frame. Yellow eyes blink open in an inky doorway. The first proper tête-à-tête between Wilson and the demon plays out at a gloomy dock. The demon already beat Wilson up once, but this is a showdown with a more prepared Wilson. Blacksher nimbly blocks the action without leaning on the shaky handheld to obscure the choreography. Like everything else in When I Consume You, it comes across as grounded and precise. When proper horror beats storm in, be it a hand torn in half or the demon consuming a soul, sparing sound design and shot choice handily convey dread.
Unfortunately, Blackshear’s script undercuts much of his aesthetic successes. When I Consume You provides just enough detail on a variety of story strands to engage, but not enough so that all of them land as fully realized arcs. This may be a result of the story attempting to patchwork more ideas than it can manage into 90-ish minutes. There is a sibling family drama about two broken loved ones positioned against an unforgiving world. Mixed in is the supernatural angle calling on a century’s worth of demonic archetypes. Throw on top the revenge thriller that takes over after Daphne’s death and there is quite a bit stewing on the page. By the end, it’s hard not to imagine that Blackshear would have benefitted from a condensed scope. Or, embracing a longer runtime to broaden the impact of the underserved components.
The most successful of the storylines is unequivocally the sibling dynamic, anchored by Ewing and Dumouchel’s immediate chemistry. Casting performers who can sell a lifetime’s worth of history elevates any story dependent on familial believability. From the way Ewing and Dumouchel look at, hug, and argue with each other, I could read decades of shared experience and baggage onto their smallest ticks. An especially powerful scene comes when Wilson has a 3 a.m. freakout and arrives at Daphne’s door. She lets him in, and they play a card game on her fire escape, trading sarcastic barbs all the while. When Wilson has a panic attack about an interview in the morning, Daphne holds him and talks him through it. In those beats, Ewing and Dumouchel are both effortlessly tender and heartbreaking. Blackshear’s dialogue does not always serve them, but when the two find the zone they are riveting.
When I Consume You is not quite as cohesive as Blackshear’s directorial high watermark They Look Like People (2015), but it still conveys the vision of an innovative filmmaker with a great deal on his mind. It also offers a resounding reminder of the blisteringly creative work happening in micro-budget horror. Blackshear reminds us that massive CGI budgets and apocalyptic stakes are far from necessary to create compelling cinematic work. When I Consume You may not wholly come together, but it achieves a singular genre interrogation of a powerful relationship. I’ll take that over screaming goats and indulgent cameos every time.
When I Consume You will be available on VOD platforms beginning August 16 courtesy of 1091 Pictures. Get more information on where you can view the film here.
An imperfect but engrossing demon-tinged thriller.
Devin McGrath-Conwell holds a B.A. in Film / English from Middlebury College and is currently pursuing an MFA in Screenwriting from Emerson College. His obsessions include all things horror, David Lynch, the darkest of satires, and Billy Joel. Devin’s writing has also appeared in publications such as Filmhounds Magazine, Film Cred, Horror Homeroom, and Cinema Scholars.