Perry Blackshear, Evan Dumouchel and Libby Ewing Discuss 'When I Consume You' and Finding Light in the Dark
The films of Perry Blackshear offer a distinct and often moving outlook on the darker and more ambiguous sides of life. They’re thoughtful and grounded character dramas while at the same time being successfully entertaining genre flicks; a careful blend that not many filmmakers manage to get right, at least not with the consistency that Blackshear and his team have.
His debut, 2015’s They Look Like People, centered on a mentally disturbed man who believes literal evil is spreading through the populace, and his lonely friend who tries to help him. It’s a masterful slow burn of horror-inspired tension. Someone may or may not get a jug of acid poured on them. Blackshear then switched gears with The Siren, a melancholy yet beautiful fantasy-tinged tale of romance and monsters. You can take the title literally.
His latest offering is When I Consume You, a story of two siblings attempting to get by in the world when an encounter with a dangerous and mysterious stalker throws them into a nightmarish quest for revenge. While no less contemplative than his previous films, When I Consume You offers a serious sense of momentum as Blackshear takes notes from thrillers and even action movies as the brother and sister fight to survive. Read our full review
Like all of his films thus far, When I Consume You benefits rather than suffers from a small and intimate cast and crew. Blackshear’s usual collaborators / co-producers return once again, with Evan Dumouchel starring as the older of the siblings, Wilson Shaw, and MacLeod Andrews playing the stalker. Margaret Ying Drake also appears albeit in a smaller role this time around, and Libby Ewing joins the cast as Daphne Shaw, Wilson’s younger but tougher sister (Ewing also receives a producing credit.)
Knotfest had the opportunity to sit down with Blackshear, Dumouchel, and Ewing for a discussion on When I Consume You the day before its digital release. We talked about the film’s various themes and ideas and finding the light within the dark.
They Look Like People was very affecting for me personally, as someone who deals with things like depression, nihilism, cynicism, all of those other wonderful issues. I feel like it really tackles them in an original way and a really poignant way. We’ve kind of come back around to similar feelings with When I Consume You. What does the film mean to you and what do you think the core ideas that audiences should take away from it are?
Perry Blackshear: One of the great things about doing They Look Like People was that we didn't really know what we were doing. I mean, we had a good idea, but I think a lot of what it was about, we discovered after the fact. Sort of like we were just trying to transcribe our dreams, our nightmares, and then at the end sort of realized some of the themes. Especially with a little bit of distance from this one. For me, the two things that really stick out are loneliness and how physical it feels, and how desperate and helpless it can make you feel. Also, how to grow up when the world is monstrous, or when the world seems monstrous. When the world is monstrous, do you become a monster to fight it? What happens if you do that and can your soul survive that process?
Evan Dumouchel: We talked a lot about how it's learning that dance of when you need to be hard and when you need to be soft in this sort of journey that we're on, about growing up. And that's not necessarily with relationships with other people, that's with ourselves, too. One of my takeaways is the importance of kindness and self-love with those around you and for yourself. Because there's a lot of battling that happens, not just in this film but in all our films, that talk about that kind of internal struggle.
Libby Ewing: One thing that really hooked me into the film was the familial bond, the sibling relationship and those dynamics with grief and trauma within families, and the way that people can have the same experience and move through the world very differently. I think that it's an exploration of grief and love and fighting to be well, and fighting for yourself and fighting for the ones you love.
Can you talk a little bit about this film’s journey to get made? How did it change from whatever the initial concept was to the finished film?
Perry Blackshear: There were elements of an earlier script that I had written a long time ago in there. But it was always sort of about this transformation, almost like growing up again. You grow up and you're kind of made a certain way. Daphne's way is if something messes with you, you punch it in the head until it dies. And Wilson's way is just cower in the corner and hope it leaves you alone. They worked when they were kids but now it's different. So, you know, you have to kind of grow up again in a way that you get to decide. There was always part of that in there. But it was actually before the pandemic, which is surprising given that it feels like a pandemic film. But I wrote it very quickly, sort of in a fever dream with the actors in mind for the most part. Then we came out and filmed it in order, in November, in New York, with basically no crew. We shot it like a documentary.
It was very cold out there. We have some very funny stories from shooting at like four or 5am on these weird random streets in Brooklyn. In post, it was a very difficult film to make. I talked about it sometimes like an exorcism. Like the movie was this very intense, dark thing that we had to go through. When we were filming, there's the scary thing on the wall that’s in the movie. That was actually my bedroom that we filmed all that stuff in and that scary glyph stayed on the wall for months after that. It was pretty awful. But during the making of it, Libby took like, sage stuff and saged the whole room.
Libby Ewing: You can never be too careful. Especially with this film!
What do you feel was the most difficult or surprising part of translating the story to the screen?
Perry Blackshear: For me, when you do a film like this, it's so intimate. It gets so personal. Even if you're not intending it to be personal, it just gets very, very personal. Filming the scene isn't like, “Oh, we're just trying to accomplish these tasks.” You’re kind of in the middle of every scene while you're making it. So the process was very intense, emotionally.
Libby Ewing: Definitely. But because it was the nature of the way that we film and the way that Perry works, it was so safe. It was such a great environment to work within. And because we shot in order, going through this journey felt like we were trudging and trekking through this together. Emotionally, it just felt like we could go there and really do it given the nature of the way that we set up the shoot.
Evan Dumouchel: I would fully agree with that. For me and probably for you, Libby, the producer / actor elements of it are always surprisingly challenging on a shoot like this. Particularly because of the emotional demands of the roles we were playing, but also knowing that you need to be at a certain place at a certain time and make sure that the police are there to be monitoring on the other end of the alley and all that stuff. Actually, on all of our movies I have a producer hat that I'll put on when it's time to be producer mode, and then take it off and literally hand it to someone else for a symbolic change of what my internal chemistry is going to allow myself to be for the next couple of hours. That's always been helpful for me as a strange method.
Libby Ewing: But there's something immediate about that. Because you knew that, okay we have to get these shots so game on, get there, do it, go there. And then I've gotta go make some blood for the next scene.
Evan Dumouchel: It really rescues me from the preciousness of it and allows me to focus on telling the story.
The two of you also do a great job at finding that brother and sister relationship.
Libby Ewing: Evan and I, we've lived together. I really feel like Evan’s my brother. We were together so much that it got to the point where I'm like, “Are you really going to chew your food like that?” Like, it was very real.
So that helped with that kind of sibling antagonism in addition to the warmth there.
Libby Ewing: Yeah, absolutely.
Evan Dumouchel: Yeah, and both of us have some historical grounding to work with. We both have siblings and I think we had some understanding of that relationship. What's cool about the way we make movies is since then, I totally feel like Libby's my sister.
Perry Blackshear: You guys live near each other, right? Weren’t you guys going through something together just now?
Libby Ewing: My house is under construction, so my husband and I moved in with Evan and his wife. We literally are still living together!
There are so many films that deal with these kinds of similar darker themes about the world, and a lot of them, while still great films, go for a bleaker ending or bleaker outlook. Your films kind of have a little more hope despite still keeping a good amount of darkness. What keeps you from going and just making a pitch black, nihilist kind of movie?
Perry Blackshear: I don’t know, some kind of internal something. But you know, I'm glad to say that I don't know. I guess it's just sort of a worldview. There's enough nihilism if you seek it out there. It got me thinking about Midnight Mass, which Mike Flanagan is sort of a mentor and I love his work so much. What I loved about that show was that it was so dark. I mean, I'm not going to spoil anything, but the ending is very, very dark. But it’s also hopeful. There is a little piece of light among the dark. I think that's just what I care about and I automatically gravitate towards that. That's a very psychologically challenging question.
I’m gonna sound like an egghead by saying this, but I I read this thing by Tolstoy and it's basically his struggle with feeling like he wanted to commit suicide for half a decade and his journey out of that into meaning and hope again. What I loved about it is he gives nihilism a really good argument. He's like, “Here's the deal.” He really makes you feel what it feels like, and then takes you out the other side. I love that book. I love stuff like that.
Sound design has played such an integral role in all of your films, particularly with The Siren where the lead character is mute. What was your goal sound-wise for what you wanted to create with When I Consume You?
Perry Blackshear: I just tried to make you feel like Wilson, what it feels like to be him, which is why there are all those close ups and things are kind of disjointed sometimes. Or occasionally what it's like to feel like Daphne's character, that sort of intensity and overwhelm. After the very scary thing happens early on in the film, when there isn't any sound design and it's sort of weirdly real, that was attempting to mirror the experience I've had during certain moments. Like a car crash or something where the world gets oddly flat and sort of unreal. I just tried to mirror the experience of the characters and make you feel what they were experiencing throughout.
For Libby and Evan, with Perry’s films dealing with these kinds of darker ideas, does he strike you as someone that’s very sad?
Libby Ewing: (Laughs) No.
Evan Dumouchel: A resounding no.
Libby Ewing: Typically, we take this all very, very seriously. But most of the time it's just a lot of giggling and laughing. So no, that's not my experience of Perry at all. In fact, I don't want to embarrass you, Perry, but I do think you're one of the most emotionally intellectual people that I know. And I think that that translates to everything you do.
Perry Blackshear: Only a little embarrassed.
Evan Dumouchel: Yeah, there's a lot of emotional intelligence going on there. We've known each other for a really long time, and so the seed of the idea will lead to a very deep conversation. I think what I appreciate is that we can explore those things all together, which is really cool. But no, I don’t think Perry’s a sad person.
Perry Blackshear: I just want to give a shout out to these two because they put in so much work for this film. Evan sort of lived as Wilson for a little bit. We really tried to do it right and took it very seriously, the characters and their lives. But also I think there's this old myth of filmmaking that you have to suffer to make a movie and it has to be miserable and you have to fight each other all the time and that's what art is. We get to make stuff we care about with people we really like, and you know, the experience has to be one you want to do. We love doing it, even as we take it seriously. That's the goal anyway.
Evan Dumouchel: The material is challenging enough, so you might as well make the people pleasant.
Libby Ewing: I think in order to go there and to really feel safe to go there, on the other side of it we're taking care of each other off camera. And that involves just leaving the work there in the can and having our levity behind the camera.
After roughing it out in the cold in the middle of the night for this last film, are you hoping the next one is set on a beach resort somewhere?
Libby Ewing: One hundred percent.
Evan Dumouchel: I’m down to go back to New York. I get to go through that every couple of years and I enjoy it very much.
Perry Blackshear: I like the cold for some reason. I think it has to do with my Scottish roots. It doesn't bother me. So I'm sort of an asshole about it sometimes. Heat, I melt and turn beet red. It's terrible. But we'll figure it out.
A lot of your work could almost translate to straight dramas if you took out some of the more supernatural or exaggerated elements of them, but you seem determined to stay in the genre realm. What keeps you interested in maintaining that style?
Perry Blackshear: I talked to someone about this the other day, but to me, sometimes larger than life stuff feels more emotionally true than realistic stuff. Especially when you're young, if you're angry, it's like the world is on fire and if someone doesn't like you back, the world is melting. So to me, the idea of using genre, even if it's just thriller or something, feels truer to internal experience than something that's a little bit more realistic. I do love dramas. But I think that's why I gravitate towards it.
Evan Dumouchel: It creates a universality, I think. Those internals made externals speak to a wider audience than potentially just a straight drama and I liked that element of it. I also just really like watching this kind of content, too. So it’s nice to be a part of it.
If you could be a part of any crazy big movie franchise, which one would you pick?
Evan Dumouchel: I’ll do A Quiet Place for one thousand, thank you.
Libby Ewing: That’s a good one.
Perry Blackshear: Oh, my God, I don't know. I guess I'll just say whatever Mike Flanagan does next. I feel like that'd be great.
Do a Fast & Furious.
Perry Blackshear: I actually do love those movies. I love those movies. I swear the writers, when they write it, they just have a board that's like, “What is awesome?” And they just put as many things on there as they can and then use all of them that they can. I think that's actually a great way to make a movie. So, big fan.
Libby Ewing: Are they still doing like, the Jason Bourne movies, those sorts of things? I would really hop on that sort of stuff.
‘When I Consume You’ is now available on digital. See all available platforms HERE