CUFF 2021: Alberta-shot, female-led werewolf film Bloodthirsty takes a bite out of horror tropes

Most horror film aficionados are familiar with the “final girl” trope. She’s the unlikely hero. The one who confronts the monster and lives to tell the tale. 

Bloodthirsty, set to feature at this year’s Calgary Underground Film Festival, takes that old cinematic cliché and turns it on its head: What if the final girl is the monster? And what if that very characteristic is what makes her the hero?

The female-led production which filmed just outside of Edmonton, stars Lauren Beatty as Grey, a breakout indie musician thrust into the spotlight after the success of her first album. Cracking under the pressure to deliver another hit, Grey suffers from hallucinations in which she imagines herself transforming into a ravenous, bloodthirsty animal — at least, she thinks they’re hallucinations. 

Co-written by Calgarian Wendy Hill-Tout and her daughter Lowell, a singer-songwriter now based in Toronto and Los Angeles, the idea behind the script came from Lowell’s own experience navigating the predatory world of the entertainment industry, and the strain of producing her own sophomore album, Lone Wolf, after the success of her first.

“You write what you know, so I just wrote about writer’s block and the metaphorical beast that can create inside you,” says Lowell, who also wrote the film’s original songs.

“The whole film is very autobiographical. My name, Lowell, means ‘wolf cub’ and I’ve always had a huge connection with wolves. It was always going to be a major thing in the film. But at some point we realized we needed to take that metaphorical character a little further.”

As the film progresses, Grey decides to collaborate on her new album with Vaughn Daniels (played by Greg Bryk), an enigmatic and reclusive music producer — despite her girlfriend’s reservations about the man’s controversial past. The two women venture out to Vaughn’s remote home studio where the Svengali-esque producer’s increasingly aggressive, manipulative and intrusive demands in the name of creativity and craft quickly wear on Grey’s psyche and accelerate her bloodlust.

“From the beginning, when we were writing this, we were definitely looking at the power dynamic between this famous music producer and this artist who’s got so much on the line,” says Hill-Tout, who also co-produced.

To even out that imbalance of power — an imbalance that has remained pervasive in the entertainment industry and became the lynchpin of the #MeToo movement — Hill-Tout and Lowell says it was imperative that the characters, cast and crew of Bloodthirsty be female-led.

“It was always going to be a female director,” says Hill-Tout, and with Amelia Moses, they found the perfect fit. “It was interesting because here’s this director making her second feature, facing the same kind of pressure as Grey.”

Coming immediately off her first feature film, Bleed With Me, also starring Beatty, Moses says what drew her to the script was Grey’s journey from puppet and prey to predator.

“I really like body horror films,” says Moses. “It’s this weird way that our body is betraying us. And it’s this disconnect between the physical and the mental, as well. The genre really allows for this physical manifestation of these internal anxieties.”

For Beatty, Grey’s true metamorphosis isn’t just that of a werewolf, but rather her transformation into an empowered woman who finds her voice, literally and figuratively — albeit in a monstrous way.

“I started thinking about the word ‘transformation,’ and how women have to transform themselves all the time, constantly. We’re transforming ourselves in a way to fit however we think we’re supposed to act in that situation. What if we just transformed into our true selves and didn’t hold anything back?”

Lowell points out how unconventional it is to see a werewolf as a woman, and that true to life, women are forced to tame the beasts inside them. It’s a trait seen as a strength for men, but as a personality defect for women.

“Women aren’t really allowed to show that. You see so many men in these villain roles, these monster roles, and you don’t see a lot of women in werewolf movies. Ginger Snaps is the only one I can think of,” Beatty says, referring to Alberta director John Fawcett’s Edmonton-shot film from 2000. 

“I loved the idea that we all have the capacity for monstrosity.”

So far, Hill-Tout has noticed a distinctive divide between how men and women have experienced the film.

“Women relate to that sense of female empowerment. I don’t think we have that many female heroes — if you can call a werewolf a hero — who embody that in film. It’s a subject we talk about all the time, but we don’t very often create characters that embody that.”

“I don’t think men realize that most content is made for them. When I read The Catcher in the Rye, it’s good, but it’s not for me,” says Lowell.

“As a female creator, I realize how important it is to keep creating. The only people who are going to write great female characters are female. Until we can even out the playing field, then we’re not going to have a good idea of what a complex woman looks like.”

For Beatty, a queer woman, being able to make a film with a queer character so representative of herself and a demographic that is often hidden from both on-screen and behind the scenes was what made the role even more appealing.

“It’s not lost on me how lucky I am to have worked on a film that was female-led. We need more female points of view in mainstream media; we need to champion those stories, those characters, and their voices.”

Blodthirsty screens as part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival, which takes place online April 23 to May 2.