Review: ‘When I Consume You’ Will Consume You

This is a slow-burn folktale about family trauma and overcoming demons.


When I Consume You begins in an unassuming, almost hopeful way. Siblings Daphne (Libby Ewing) and Wilson (Evan Dumouchel) seem to be on the road to stable adulthood after an adolescence full of trauma and much of their 20s destabilized by unhealthy coping mechanisms. Daphne, in her early 30s and finally working a stable job, is looking to adopt a child. Shy and nervous Wilson, currently working as a custodian, has an important interview for a dream job teaching children. The brother and sister are incredibly close and the only family either of them has; they turn to each other reflexively, as if each is the other’s limb. The film opens with Wilson going to Daphne’s apartment at about 3 a.m. the morning before his job interview, as he’s having a panic attack. Daphne lets him in and on her balcony the siblings talk, continuing a play of Dungeons and Dragons they must have started long before. Daphne walks Wilson through already rehearsed answers for his upcoming interview and guides him out of panic. They watch dawn break together. And then they part ways for the day.   

Despite Wilson’s fears and nerves and anxiety, it’s a calm, almost idyllic beginning to the day, a scene that showcases the siblings’ intuitive nurturing of each other through mundane and palliative words, establishing their tenderly aching love for each other in a way that makes us, as audience members, fall deeply in love with them. It’s a genius few frames that the film uses to lull us into a false sense of safety as it sneakily sinks its teeth deep into us, because a few moments later Daphne dies from an apparent drug overdose. Wilson, convinced Daphne was murdered, unravels his life as he tries to track down her killer, creeping closer and closer to a hellish force that neither us nor Wilson see coming. When I Consume You is all-encompassing in its unnervingly understated and unflinching visual and existential horror, unpredictable as it is nerve-wracking; this gem threatens to consume us along with its protagonists.

Directed by Perry Blackshear (director, writer, and cinematographer of They Look Like People), When I Consume You deals with poignant ideas — whether there is a proper way to process trauma retained in childhood, whether there is a proper way to process grief, how to live with ghosts from the past that we might not remember, and what happens when we’re not protected anymore — in the most stunning and deftly literal ways. Blackshear has Wilson and Daphne literally fight their demons to overcome them. 

The siblings share a close bond because they had a very traumatic childhood, with Daphne, despite being the younger sibling, having to do much of the emotional heavy lifting to protect Wilson from their parents’ terrifying explosiveness. Some of their childhood horror latched onto Daphne and concretizes in the form of the being that Wilson believes murdered her. With Daphne’s death, Wilson takes it upon himself to hunt down Daphne’s murderer and finally destroy his and his sister’s torment. He’s aided in this endeavor by Daphne’s diary and her ghost.

Everything about When I Consume You is simultaneously deeply convoluted, as it reveals its plot by ambling as often into the past as it meanders through the present, and simple as a chilly breeze in the night, or straightforward as a punch to the gut. It’s difficult to describe this horror movie in a way that does it justice, in such a way as to convince you that it is indeed a genre film, or in a sufficient enough way without also spoiling it, because it is so understated with its horrific iconography. Pared back to the extent it seems like a low-budget home movie or a long-forgotten memory, it’s actually intricately wrought and incredibly well written and performed — this is why and how this movie will consume you, it will crawl under your skin with the subtly horrific ways in which it deals with its themes, and the subtly horrific ways in which it unfurls its plot, and it will live beneath your skin, staying with you for days for the way in which it has you caring for and mourning the lionhearted Daphne and the tragic Wilson. 

The film is ingenious for the way in which it presents the relationship between Daphne and Wilson to us, and Ewing and Dumouchel are stellar as the broken but so full of love siblings trying to forge a life for themselves despite their demons, despite their fears and traumas. Blackshear is also writer and cinematographer here. His characterization of both Daphne and Wilson is point-on, with both characters simultaneously distinct and unique from each other, but still so alike: two sides of the same coin. That is to say, the two are expertly fleshed out and so beguiling with their chemistry and love for each other. It’s a palpable love that serves as the spine of the film, captivating us with its sweetness at the film’s start, and then having our hearts race and our tears stream as it is fractured by the shadowy and stalking and dangerously mysterious murderer for the rest of the movie. 

The cinematography here is as subtle as the plot, too. The camera stays close to Wilson’s face, oscillating and lurching as he is beaten to a pulp by the murderer, shakily steady and apprehensive as Daphne’s ghost helps him to prepare to fight the dark creep — the intimate framing is expertly wielded by Blackshear to endear the siblings to us. As Wilson and Daphne’s ghost pursue Daphne’s murderer through wintery and dark New York back alleys glinting with black ice, through dimly-lit abandoned lots, you’ll feel your heart skip a beat and your skin prick with the chill of the cold air that escapes Wilson’s and Daphne’s lungs like clouds that are silent screams. As both Daphne and Wilson fight the murderer in turns, you will feel your body ache as theirs does. Blackshear fully and, perhaps most importantly, gradually immerses us in the trauma and the haunt of the siblings, with the effect being that this is one horror movie you will feel in your body like a bruise. Genuinely eerie and literally haunting, When I Consume You will definitely consume you.

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