Marie (Susanne Wolff) is a drunk. Struggling with starting a new graphic novel, she turns drinking itself into a form of art. She orders beer for the thirst, vodka for the taste, and whisky to get drunk. We meet her at the start of Bloody Marie in a daytime Amsterdam Red Light District bar, stumbling from side to side and getting into verbal fights with men. Later she trades her shoes for a bottle of booze, seemingly willing to sink to any length just to get another drink.
German-actress Susanne Wolff imbues Marie with a knowing melancholy, a mixture of the broken woman and the stereotypical artist. Reeling from the death of her mother, she sees no other option than to constantly reach for the bottle and make spur-of-the-moment decisions. There’s always the fear with alcoholic dramas, such as Leaving Las Vegas or Trees Lounge, that they end up inadvertently glorifying constant drinking, but Bloody Marie really makes it look like hell. Like Amsterdam’s canals, her repetitive behaviour loops in circles for the first half-hour of the film, giving her little opportunity to truly develop.
All the while, however, directing duo Lennert Hillege and Guido van Driel are laying subtle clues that point towards bloody catharsis. One such moment is a chance meeting with Romanian expat Drogomir (Dragos Bucur). As with most depictions of Eastern Europeans in Amsterdam, it’s safe to assume that he’s caught up with the sex trade. Marie is much slower to the chase, and thinks he’s rather charming. Yet, when she makes another terrible drunken decision and takes something that isn’t hers, she finds herself caught up in something far bigger than herself, forcing her to take violent action.
While there are echoes of John Wick here — both in the film’s visual flair and Marie’s fluffy canine companion, a Czech hunting dog — this is a far more contemplative film than its title and poster art suggests. While there are moments of violence, especially towards the end, it gently wends its way there, almost every scene anchored by Wolff’s impressive screen presence. Like the Jason Statham-starring Hummingbird, Bloody Marie is more about finding a way to believe in yourself again than about wreaking havoc upon your enemies. As a result, its more effective as a character study than action picture, and could’ve worked without any fighting at all.
Drenched in pink and red fluorescent lights during the night, and greys and soft blues during the day, the Amsterdam of Bloody Marie is both a sordid place hiding sordid secrets and one in a state of perpetual hangover, waiting for the cover of darkness to blanket the shame. Most of the time no one even notices Marie’s dishevelment or distressed state-of-mind; she simply fits in as another reveler in the crowd. Through mood and aesthetic alone, Bloody Marie successfully evokes a seedy world of transactional sex, whiskey-sodden bars, and lonely apartments. Without leaning too far into the clichés of victimhood or overcompensating a lack of seriousness with an overly slick tone, Hillege, and van Driel have crafted an effective take on the redemption genre.