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May 21, 2020

Review: Blood Machines (2019)

Blood-Machines-2019

Director: ​​Seth Ickerman

Starring:​ ​​Anders Heinrichsen, Christian Erickson,Elisa Lasowski, Joelle Berckmans, Natasha Cashman, Walter Dickerson

​Run Time: 50mins

​Right from the off, you know “Blood Machines” is going to be a unique prospect. Partly this comes down how it is being presented as the 50-minute film has been chopped into three chapters and is being dubbed as a “Shudder Original Experience.” Partly it comes down to its singular eyeball scorching visual style, which is both highly reminiscent of the 80s while also being its own thing.


Undoubtedly the first thing that strikes you about the project, which a sequel to Carpenter Brut’s music video “Turbo Killer,” is just quite how beautiful it is. This thing positively drips style. Every frame is like a psychedelic comic strip come to life. Moebius would be proud. As mentioned, there is a clear 80s influence both in the look (it is positively awash with neon) and Carpenter Brut’s pounding synth score, which adds a lot to the atmosphere of the piece.


It is clear from every aspect of the visual effects and production design that director Seth Ickerman (who was also visual effects supervisor and production designer on it) has put a great deal of thought into the look of this universe. And as in exercise in world-building, it is great. ​

However, to say, the project is narratively slight would be an underestimate. The plot, such as it is, focuses on two space hunters, Vascan (Anders Heinrichsen) and Lago (Christian Erickson), who encounter a tribe of female scavengers. One of whom, Corey (Elisa Lasowski), performs the miracle of birthing an AI female ghost from their spaceship. This event then leads the pair on an intergalactic chase.


To some extent, to say much more would spoil it but then again what constitutes as the plot here is largely beside the point. Instead Ickerman is  clearly more interested in hurtling the viewer through a surreal cosmic kaleidoscope. And as thrilling as that often is and as memorable as certain images are, there is part of you that can’t help but want a little more.


The accusation of “style over substance” is often over-used. As even directors who often get that tag (Argento, De Palma, Refn, etc.) frequently produce work that does have more going for that just the look, be it deranged plots, interesting characters, or a certain intensity. Here though, the majority of proceedings feel, in some ways, curiously flat, and the accusation does seem appropriate here.


Also, while most of the actors play their parts well and Elisa Lasowski, in particular, is a striking screen presence, but there is little that makes their characters stand out. A possible exception is Vascan, but that is only down to how unlikeable he is and not in a particularly memorable or interesting way. There is also something slightly grating about the “isn’t this so arty” use of female nudity.


 “Blood Machines” is great to look at, has a great soundtrack, and has a wonderfully surreal imagination to it. However, the lack of engagement elsewhere ultimately leaves it hollow, making it feel like an overextended music video. Which is frustrating as there tantalising hints at a greater mythology there that could have made it something great.


Overall: If you are willing to switch off your brain and let it all wash over you, you are in for a helluva trip. If you are looking for anything else, though, you may be in for a frustrating watch.

5.5/10


“Blood Machines” is available on Shudder now!

You can watch the trailer here

May 13, 2020

Review: Monstrum (2018)

Monstrum_2018

Director: ​Huh Jong-ho

Starring:​ ​Kim Myung-min, Choi Woo-Shik, Lee Hye-ri, Park Hee-soon, Sung-woong Park, Kyeong-yeong Lee

​Run Time: 105mins

The latest arrival on Shudder is a South Korean monster movie that you partly suspect may have been picked up based on the star power of Choi Woo-Shik (Parasite, Train to Busan). Although this possibly a little unfair given the movie picked up an Audience Award at the Stiges festival. And there is undoubtedly something to "Monstrum's" mixture of martial arts action, political machinations, comedy, romance, and monster mayhem.

Woo-shik it turns out has a relatively reduced role in proceedings as he is largely there as the love interest for one of the other main characters. The story's main protagonist is Yun-kyum (Kim Myung-min). A former warrior who is instructed, along with his brother Sung-han (Kim In-kwon) and daughter Myung (Lee Hye-ri),  by King Jungjong (Park Hee-soon) to find whether a rumoured vicious creature roaming the countryside is real or merely a scare story to destabilise his throne.

Where the story goes from here is entirely predictable. Plot is definitely not one of the films strong suits as every twist and turns you can see signposted a mile away. At times, to an almost eye-rolling degree. The formulaic storytelling is not the only thing that feels overly familiar as the characters also rarely raise themselves above archetypes. This includes our central three characters as Yun-kyum is a reluctant noble warrior, Myung the stereotypical feisty female lead, and Sung-Han as the comic relief. We also have a well-meaning but somewhat naïve king and a scheming prime minister, amongst others. So far, so generic.

Despite all this, there is also a number of commendable elements to the film. First off is while their characters may not be well-drawn, the main cast are very good in their roles. Also, there is good chemistry between the leads, and there is a fun family dynamic between Yun-Kyum, Myung, and Sam-Han. The film makes a decent fist of spinning the various genre plates at play here.

Something else that gives proceedings a relatively unique flavour is the Joseon dynasty setting (16th Century) and the rather startling fact that the movie claims to be "based on a true story." Of course, it seems very unlikely there was actually a monster tearing through the South Korean mountainsides, but it certainly does add another note of intrigue to the film.

Where the movie really sings though is in its action sequences. Director Huh Jong-ho clearly knows his way around an action set-piece as each sword battle and piece of monster carnage is very well-staged. Another key strength is the monster itself, as you can't have a good monster movie without a good monster. And Monstrum certainly has that. The creature making an indelible impression on the viewer from the moment it roars onto the screen. You only wished that many of the other elements were as memorable as its central creature.

Overall: While hamstrung by predictable plotting and over-familiar character, Monstrum, motors along at a breezy pace, has several spirited performances and has more than enough action set-pieces and creature carnage to make it a fun watch.

6/10

​Monstrum will be available on Shudder from May 14th.