When I Consume You starts strong and boasts a strong visual character, but it frustratingly trades too heavily in tired horror tropes to land with much impact by its end.
In Perry Blackshear’s third horror feature, When I Consume You, an entire world is cast in shadow. Two siblings, Daphne (Libby Ewing) and Wilson (Evan Dumouchel), live haunted lives, plagued by ambiguously traumatic childhoods that lead to equally fraught adulthoods — when a pair of deep yellow eyes awaken in these shadows, there is no circle of light to protect the Shaw siblings, only a world of unrelenting darkness and the dangers that hide within it. Blackshear’s vision is a bold one, refusing his audience any relief they might find in light and instead creating an aesthetic that is claustrophobic in its intimacy, built on the shared trauma and codependency that keeps Daphne and Wilson trapped in their pasts. What is repressed internally fights its way into the very landscape of When I Consume You, and despite bearing the same subject matter, the lo-fi aesthetic of Blackshear’s cinematography offers a stark contrast to most trauma-centric modern horror, embracing the grainy, dirty, and at times chaotic instead of the more sanitized and polished look of similar studio fare. Importantly, Blackshear largely doesn’t concern himself with actually delineating the specific traumas that led to the characters’ current predicaments, leaning toward a sense of ambiguity — rather than overt metaphor — that lends itself to the fog of memory in ways that feel original for this specific vein of horror. Neither sibling remembers their traumas, or each other, perfectly, and despite the occasional flashback to a significant moment, Blackshear uses admirable restraint in how he depicts their haunted pasts, especially in a genre that has become increasingly clumsy with the subject.
But for all Blackshear’s vision, When I Consume You stumbles on some of the more basic starting blocks. Despite a strong premise, Blackshear’s screenplay doesn’t quite follow through, with a promising first act immediately let down by a second and third full of clichéd dialogue and tired genre tropes. Lines like “If you won’t help me, then get out of my way” and what is practically the supernatural equivalent of a training montage feel out of place in a film that started with the apparent intention of rejecting this sort of by-the-numbers storytelling. Within the confines of a hacky script, Blackshear is limited in how compelling or emotionally evocative his story can be, and all the striking compositional and cinematographic choices in the world can’t hide that audiences have seen this film before — countless times, in fact, over the horror genre’s past few years. The two leads, Ewing and Dumouchel, are similarly limited by Blackshear’s writing, following the same pattern of coming out strong in the first act, only to suffer a steep drop-off after the film’s first big twist. It’s a genuine shame to watch When I Consume You drift from a film with clear visual intention and a confident tone into uncertainty, going into autopilot just to prevent from straying too far off the beaten track. The result is a film that stays firmly in the middle of the road, losing its most engaging elements early on, and unable to balance its strong aesthetic with an ultimately uninteresting narrative riddled with too-familiar beats.