By JENN ADAMS
Perry Blackshear is making quite a name for himself in the world of psychological horror. His breakout film, They Look Like People is a moving examination of friendship in the midst of mental illness, and his follow-up, The Siren, is a haunting tale of love and loss. With a unique approach to filmmaking, the writer/director/producer creates an intimacy that pulls the audience into the heart of his stories making them perfect explorations of the demons that haunt our own minds.
Blackshear calls WHEN I CONSUME YOU his darkest film to date, but close camera work and a strong core cast add an undercurrent of hope and love to the heartbreaking story. Daphne (Libby Ewing) and Wilson (Evan Dumouchel) are adult siblings who’ve survived some of the worst trauma imaginable. Though still haunted by their past, they lean on each other and have begun to make positive changes to improve their lives. But Daphne has a mysterious stalker (MacLeod Andrews), a shadowy figure she can’t seem to shake. A shocking tragedy shifts the focus of his devious plans and the siblings must work together to defeat this terrifying creature who threatens to not only take their lives, but consume their souls.
Blackshear reunites with the cast from his previous two films, MacLeod Andrews, Evan Dumouchel, and Margaret Ying Drake in a small cameo, in what is beginning to feel like a cinematic family. The addition of Libby Ewing rounds out this tiny ensemble to create a one of a kind movie experience about the struggle to overcome the demons of your past and the people you turn to when you’re lost in a nightmare. Rue Morgue sat down with Blackshear, Dumouchel, and Ewing to talk about bonding as a crew, long days of filming, and the unique bond that comes from such an intimate set.
Perry, you’ve described this as your darkest film. What inspired you to want to tell this story and what was the creative process like?
PB: It felt like a fever dream to write it. I think I had a little bit less of a plan than I normally do with films like this. It felt a lot more instinctual. With They look Like People or the other films, you know a little bit about what you’re working with in terms of the themes or the meaning but most of the time we figured them out after the fact once we’d made it. So in some ways it felt like transcribing a nightmare and then trying to bring it to life. [Laughs.] I had learned that loneliness fires the same receptors in the body as physical pain. And I have experienced that. I was thinking about how loneliness can become physical and maybe loneliness or these things coming back is something you can fight with your fists. I would love to take some of these internal things and be able to actually do something about them in the real world. But it’s like fighting against a phantom. So I think that was the beginning of it.
Both They Look Like People and WHEN I CONSUME YOU explore themes of trauma and mental illness. Do you consider these two movies to be spiritually related in any way due?
PB: I think so. The real world parts of this we take extremely seriously. In They Look Like People it was schizophrenia and with this it was childhood trauma. In all of them I think that fantasy and horror feel more like what life is like than realism because when things are going on internally the world seems like a really scary place. So that idea of bringing internal struggle into monsters or demons or ghosts or something like that. I love that kind of world. I like to watch characters I care a lot about embodied by people I care a lot about fighting against these dark forces. And rooting for them along the way.
This is not the first time you’ve worked with Evan and MacLeod. What is it that keeps drawing you back to this ensemble and do you find that when you’re writing you start to picture certain actors in certain roles?
PB: Absolutely. I write for them. People ask me that and I’m like why would you not want to work with these people that you love to work with who also just happen to be some of the best actors I know. So it works out great [Laughs] for me anyway.
One of the things I love about the film, especially being a fan of your two previous films, is it feels a bit like watching a cinematic family. Libby you’re new to this ensemble so what was it like to step into such a tight knit group?
LE: I am new to the ensemble. Evan is the one who introduced me to Perry and brought me in. I was a huge fan of They Look Like People. I had met Evan in Los Angeles and I saw this film and was like tell me everything! How did you make it? I love it! And then their second film The Siren I was lucky enough to watch different iterations of that film as they were finishing it. So basically I fangirled out. [Laughs] Then Evan said there was a part for a sister role coming up and I was like whatever I need to do to get in. So Perry and I chatted a whole bunch. We met over zoom because I was in LA and he was in New York and we just hit it off really well. I loved the script and sent in some different auditions. And they told me,”If you’re gonna make this film you need to know that we make it in a very particular style. So you’re gonna have to roll up your sleeves and get to work.” And I was like that’s exactly what I want to do. I suspected I would love it and I was right. Making this movie as intense as it was, is truly like my happy place. It was just like joy every day to work on.
I think you can feel that in the film. As dark as it is it still has this undercurrent of hope and love. The heart of the story really is the relationship between Wilson and Daphne. What was the process like for both of you to build this sibling relationship?
LE: Evan and I rehearsed this like a play. We were both living in LA and then during the filming process we actually lived together so the day in and day out of being together all the time really solidified that brother sister relationship. I also have siblings that are my best friends. I love them. I would do anything for them so it was a pretty easy hook for me personally. And Evan is like literally my brother now. [Laughs] So I think it just organically happened.
ED: Yeah there was a lot of immersion therapy going on. [Laughs] We just spent a lot of time together. I had admired Libby’s work. While I was making these movies I had been watching her world as well and so I knew that she was someone I wanted to work with. Years ago we had done a scene together and I had felt like, ok this is a person who I would like to be a part of my artistic future. So even from then we’d been building a friendship and an admiration.
PB: Weren’t you guys doing weird shots like sage? There were all sorts of rituals I felt like you were doing while living together.
ED: Well we really needed to stay healthy and so we had all of our supplements. Oregano oil was what it was.
LE: Oregano oil shots. [Laughs] And vitamin C.
ED: We were shooting twelve and fourteen hour days and really needed to not get sick because our schedule was so tight. So we took to oregano oil shots in the morning and the evenings which is very unpleasant! Not medical advice but I think it keeps you healthy. [Laughs]
PB: It’s better than on They Look Like People we ended up doing a lot of Afrin which we found out afterwards is addictive. [Laughs]
LE: [Laughs] Yes, I think it’s highly addictive.
PB: You’re only supposed to do it for a day or two but we were like, “We’re still stuffed up!” [Laughs] It was an improvement on our method I guess. [Laughs]
I’m curious about the game Wilson and Daphne play on the fire escape. It looks like you’re using a tarot deck, is that right?
LE: Yes! [Laughs]
ED: Oh yeah. I’m an appreciator [of tarot]. I always love it when a friend of ours will be able to read our tarot because it’s like “ok yeah tell me everything about myself.” [Laughs] Fun Fact. Magic the Gathering is one of Perry’s, I won’t call it your favorite game, but we’ve certainly played it a bunch together, oftentimes at our wraps for various films. I imagine people in other worlds go and have some big party but we’ll get together and play Magic the Gathering to celebrate finishing the shoot. [Laughs]
PB: We played it at the end of They Look Like People.
ED: Yeah. [Laughs]
PB: It was Evan’s first time playing. It was actually funny because Libby’s character does the thing that Evan did where he’d keep wanting to do things in the game cause he was a little drunk. And he was like “Why can’t I just run you over with my mammoth?” And we were like, “because then your mammoth will die” And he was just like “but, but I hate you!” [Laughs] He’d just keep losing and he’d get so angry.
ED: It’s a very challenging game. [Laughs]
PB: That scene [on the fire escape] was basically a documentary. [Laughs]
You mentioned that these films are created in a specific type of way. Can you tell me about the process of filming?
PB: I crewed for many years as a cinematographer and as a gaffer on a lot of shoots large and small. I ended up thinking that with the cameras and stuff that you could make stuff with almost no crew, with just a documentary sort of group. There’s no real crew other than the actors who are also the producers, bless their souls. We shoot it like a documentary. We rehearse it, but I allow myself one light and I shoot it. We do all the sound ourselves and it leads to some really cool intimacy. It’s an amazing way of working. It’s also so difficult and so I don’t necessarily recommend it. Throughout the years we’ve figured out when we need more people for certain things. My old classmate Chloé Zhao shot Songs My Brothers Taught Me and The Rider with a crew of five. I think you can do things bigger movies can’t when you work like that. It’s extremely challenging. You have to really love and trust the people you do it with because you’re like stuck together on a mountaintop of movie making for so long. It’s so exhausting but if it works its one cool way of movie making among many cool ways of movie making
What I love about the film is you really feel like you’re there with the characters. What is it like as a performer with that kind of intimate filming style and what was it like to be both actor and producer?
LE: There’s an immediacy that needs to happen. So for me it was like you just have to do your work and bring it. I really trusted Perry so much behind the camera. I could feel his energy moving with me through things. So you bring it and you feel safe and you just jump off that cliff.
ED: Perry and I, I’m very lucky to have had an artistic partner for as long as we have. We’ve got this shorthand where I feel very safe being whoever the character is gonna be in front of the camera. Even though [the shot] might be quite close we’ve got a grammar to our language of performance and direction that is quite refined yet unpretentious. I feel, like Libby said, safe in doing that kind of work.
We never find out what Daphne and Wilson have been through and we never really find out what the monster is. There’s an ambiguous quality to the story that I really appreciate because it stays away from anything that might feel exploitative but also it allows me to channel my own experiences into the film. Was it an intentional choice to never really define?
PB: The exploitative aspect was what I wanted to stay away from and focus on them now, how the broader idea of the stuff you go through when you’re young can come back in ways that you never expect when you’re older. So yeah, I wanted to keep it focused on the present with these adults and what they’re going through in their twenties. Sometimes the imagination is scarier as well. But I think that there’s a version of this story that I really didn’t want to make.
I’m curious about the monster, or the stalker who’s played by MacLeod. I call him a monster. I don’t know if that’s quite the word I’m looking for. He feels kind of nebulous. Was he inspired by any existing folklore?
PB: I think it was an attempt to, [Laughs] – I’m about to use the word manifest but that’s an incorrect use of the word – combine the voice in my head and the voice in Wilson and Daphne’s heads. When MacLeod and I were working together he adopted this very avuncular, almost fatherly way of treating Evan, like, “this is for your own good.” There was something so upsetting about a mentor type character acting in this terrifying way and I got a lot of inspiration from that. He’s this sort of inevitable thing that represents all the terrible things you tell yourself about yourself, and it can’t be defeated because it’s you. I think I just leaned towards the awful and ended up with a demon.
One of the scariest scenes is when he approaches Wilson as a friendly face. It’s terrifying how familiar he feels in the role.
PB: I thought about him almost like a cult leader. In that bench scene I wanted the audience to wonder if these guys are gonna buddy their way through the rest of this movie, but also feel like Wilson is getting radicalized by this powerful male mentor. That was a great series of scenes to shoot with MacLeod at 4 am on the street. It was like negative a billion degrees and poor MacLeod was barely wearing anything. Evan had on like 8 layers and MacLeod was like, “I’m fine!” [Laughs]
You’ve said “When I Consume You is your darkest film and my mind wants to finish that sentence with, “It’s my darkest film yet.” Do you think this is territory you’ll want to explore in the future?
PB: What I like about the film is that it really doesn’t shy away from how dark things can get and how bleak it really can be. It’s not like, “just believe and it’s all fine” or just “punch the monster in the face and then it’s all gone.” I think that makes the victory worth it. I do like going to dark places. That being said, this film felt a little bit like an exorcism. This is very, very dark stuff and we had to go through this collective nightmare together. I think there will always be darkness in the films ahead but also making sure to maintain the light in there somewhere too.
What was it like as a performer to go to such dark places especially with such an intimate style of filmmaking? Was it difficult to get into that headspace?
ED: Yes, of course. [Laughs] As a performer you know it’s a safe space so you can go there, but then in it as the character, yeah it’s challenging stuff. I think you need to create space around the scenes and the scene work in order to allow yourself to go there. And know that the people who you love and trust will be there on the other side to catch you.
LE: I 100% agree with that. I think it made me ask a lot of questions of myself that I perhaps didn’t want to be asking. Finding those answers and making those discoveries with these guys and on camera was really powerful. It was a cathartic experience but something that was really challenging. I learned a lot about myself on the other side of it. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to have this space to express what was on the page.
What do you want people to take away from the film?
PB: It’s hard for me because it was like transcribing a series of nightmares. There isn’t necessarily a message other than, “call your mom,” “be nice to your friends,” and “be happy that you’re alive.” I don’t know about the message necessarily. I guess maybe just keep fighting.
LE: And to have a softness with oneself and with others because we don’t really know the battles with which all of us are going through.
ED: Yeah I’m just parroting what the both of you have said, but it’s true. A certain amount of kindness which I think is really challenging for a lot of people. We can be nice to everybody else but it’s really hard to love ourselves. I read recently that if you could treat yourself like the person you admire and love the most, how would your life be different? I think it’s an interesting question.
What’s next? Do you have any plans to collaborate on a new project in the future?
PB: It’s so hard because there are a few things we can’t talk about. But there’s a few movies in the works. One that might be set in Ireland because that’s where I’m from. There’s a ghost story one and then one about a cursed play that some people discover may end up being not a play but a ritual.
LE: Yeah we’re all ready to jump back in. You finish one and you’re like, what’s next? Let’s do it! [Laughs]
Hello 🙂 Totally. The process of making it is incredibly satisfying as well as putting it out which we’re very excited to do. But making it together is one of the pieces that I love the most.
WHEN I CONSUME YOU is now available on VOD platforms.