A triumph of tone more than anything else, Perry Blackshear’s “When I Consume You” is “The Fisher King” reimagined as a bleak horror tale bathed in abuse and mental illness.
Desperately poor co-dependent siblings struggle to forget their traumatized childhoods and lose themselves in the delusions they live under — that a drug addict and a mental “14 year old” can adopt a child, or become an early childhood educator.
But lurking in the shadows is the green-eyed demon of their past. It’s not just their permanent records and employment histories holding them back. Daphne and Wilson are stalked by a great evil, which each must face in her or his own time.
Writer-director Perry Blackshear revisits the themes and general plot outline of his earlier film “They Look Like People” for this down-market New York story set in the grime, violence and poverty of the city’s underbelly.
Libby Ewing (TV’s “Grow the F*ck Up”) is Daphne, barely holding it together, fielding unannounced three a.m. visits from her panic-attack prone “on the spectrum” brother Wilson (Evan Dumouchel, of “They Look Like People”) and patiently meeting with an adoption counselor, as if a “recovering” addict with a police record has a prayer of that ever happening.
All her self-help/self-actualization “Buddhist” “Zen” etc. jargon can’t hide the obvious. She’s too damaged, too needy and too broke to offer anything to a child.
Wilson, a college drop-out janitor, figures he’ll become a teacher to “help kids” and “make them feel safe.” Well, maybe in Florida. There’s quite the governor-generated shortage here, you know.
Daphne is great at calming her brother, propping him up and understanding him. Imagine his and the viewer’s shock when he walks in on her, OD’d in her bed, her blow-dryer still running.
The “14 year old boy” that Wilson is, he flees, trying to outrun this shock and his own lungs in a breathless (handheld camera) sprint. When he catches his breath and comes back, he first assumes he can revive the dead sister, then he calls the cops and insists he saw “a man” fleeing through her no-fire-escape fourth-floor window.
It’s only when Daphne comes back to him that his task becomes clear. He will find “the murderer,” and “become someone who can fight the man who killed you.”
To the ghost of Daphne, and to us, it’s pretty obvious that was no “man.” And as she exhorts Wilson and “trains” him for the big confrontation, we wonder just who or what Wilson will track down and how he might face it.
Blackshear’s preferred vibe here is down and out and fatalistic. Doom and gloom hang over this story and this quest, and Daphne’s spirit does not sugarcoat it for the brother she’s no longer there to protect.
The sibling relationship and intimate details of their lives — he keeps plants that he names after “Lord of the Rings” or “Hunger Games” characters — are major selling points of this downbeat story.
The supernatural nature of the quest make it “horror.” But “When I Consume You” is closer to being an arm’s-length character study in illness, an arrested-mental-development take on what a childish brother believes he’s seen and the “evil” he must confront.
For all its brevity, packaging a simple psychological horror story in a relatively short film, I felt my interest drifting away in the internalized struggle and contrived, externalized confrontation of the later acts.
It’s still an intriguing and somewhat cerebral entry in the horror canon, a movie that reminds us that the real “monsters” are trauma and the real confrontations are best handled in a therapist’s office.
Rating: unrated, violence, drug abuse, profanity
Cast: Libby Ewing, Evan Dumouchel, MacLeod Andrews.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Perry Blackshear. A 1091 release.
Running time: 1:29