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.
“Blood Machines” is available on Shudder now!
You can watch the trailer here