Daphne (Libby Ewing) and Wilson Shaw (Evan Dumouchel) didn’t really have anyone growing up besides themselves. The same could be said now. They cut out their parents years ago and did their best to power through the trauma they endured, but it almost came crashing down courtesy the former’s long-lasting drug addiction. They endured it, though. Together. And they have hope again: Daphne dreams of adopting a child to love like they never were, Wilson aspires to turn his janitorial job into a teaching career to give kids the time they were never afforded. When those leaps forward become threatened by adversity, however, old feelings of self-loathing return with menacing yellow eyes in the shadows.

We see the latter early on: two glowing orbs in the blackness of an open closet. Are they a demon? A nightmare? Who knows. Writer-director Perry Blackshear intentionally keeps their origins shrouded in mystery as he brings us into the Shaw siblings’ lives, despite tiny details that can’t help get our minds racing. Because with them comes the drawing of a torso torn in two. With that is a tattoo on Daphne’s wrist that could very well be an ancient symbol alluding to evil as either a means of acknowledgement or protection. Add our introduction to these characters being at opposite ends of a bathroom door while she pulls a tooth from her bloodied and bruised face and the danger seems real.

When I Consume You, much like Blackshear’s debut feature They Look Like People, does a wonderful job saying so much with so little. We don’t need over-the-top gore or creature effects when scrawled writing on the wall, shaky camera chases, and extra-loud foley can create the anxious, uncertain mood necessary for a story about the unknown that toes the line between fact and fiction. Because while the owner of those eyes serves as the main question looming above the proceedings, there’s also the issue of whether we can trust Wilson’s state of mind once Daphne is found dead of an overdose. It’s one thing to believe his claims of seeing a murderer; it’s another to accept her presence as a ghost.

I won’t lie and say it doesn’t initially come across as silly. Sensitive Wilson finding the person he believes killed his sister only to get beat-up to the point of yanking his own tooth from his jaw? Strong Daphne returning from the grave to guide her brother on a path of muscle- and confidence-building to prepare him for the next encounter? The ensuing montage is akin to a sports film with plenty of eggs drunk raw. It provides room to either engage with this blossoming revenge plot’s darkness or the sentimental route—picking Wilson, helping him onwards and upwards towards the life people in his background generally never see. If I wouldn’t have minded the latter, the former proves far better.

At the risk of giving too much away, the payoff to Wilson’s training is a take-no-prisoners battle en route to an inevitable truth of what’s occurring. MacLeod Andrews enters in a supporting role as a local detective, and the occult becomes much more involved whether a result of necessity or comfort. The sequence putting Wilson and Daphne back on the street to hunt out her killer has some nice dread, a brief reprieve, and a sinister surprise by way of a raspy whisper and close-up mouth. Blackshear is all about creating a claustrophobic mood by way of sight and sound—his ability to turn a scene from generic conversation to cruel manipulation in an instant (on a shoe-string budget) is unparalleled.

Things do get a bit convoluted if for no other reason than there being fewer than twenty minutes left when the truth finally arrives. That’s not a lot of time to wrap things up satisfactorily, especially when adding Daphne’s yet-unknown friend Dani (Claire Siebers) at the eleventh hour for reasons I still can’t quite grasp. But the climax, once Wilson finally confronts what haunts him, bears impact enough to let most of that disappear. It’s a tense exchange with both physical and psychological consequences on multiple narrative levels—even as Blackshear puts the spotlight on that which shouldn’t be possible, there remains room to write it all off as delusion. It remains real to Wilson regardless.

And that’s When I Consume You‘s true success. Beyond its aesthetic and horror lies a poignant message about second chances. For so long Daphne has protected Wilson in ways he couldn’t imagine, and seeing her dead—losing the opportunity to ever return the favor—could have been his downfall. Whether he’s able to do that for her via the afterlife or finish what she started by embracing the drive to help himself, it will neither be an easy road nor one that concludes. Wilson will always battle demons from his past and present. He’ll always climb uphill to simply start on even footing with those who don’t know his pain or struggle. Now he might finally have what it takes to prevail.

When I Consume You is playing the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Grade: B

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