Another new release from the folks over at Shudder, and this time it’s the neon-drenched psychedelic sci-fi… thing… called Blood Machines, a collaboration between Seth Ickerman (aka Raphaël Hernandez) and musician Carpenter Brut who had previously worked together on a semi-prequel music video called Turbo Killer. A lot of the same iconography from that video shows up here but while the first video told a somewhat coherent, if heavily stylised, story the same can’t be said for Blood Machines.
This film follows the story of the warship Mima that is shot down by another ship crewed by Captain Vascan (Anders Heinrichsen), Engineer Lago (Christian Erickson) and their temperamental AI Tracy (Noemie Stevens). Landing on the planet to salvage the remains of Mima, Vascan and Lago must deal with unwanted interruptions in the form of a band of female scavengers/Amazons who have their own plans for Mima, plans which seem to involve a ritual to release the “soul” of the ship into the form of a naked, levitating woman who then proceeds to fly off into space. As you do.
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After that the story becomes a chase between the crew of the Tracy along with their prisoner, Corey (Elisa Lasowski), as they pursue the mysterious woman from the Mima, attempting to understand what is happening and whether or not they can profit from it – and this is the point that the plot slips into an incomprehensible mess of music, neon and naked women. A lot goes on in Blood Machines, but really only the grand strokes of the plot make any real sense. The visuals are certainly lovely, beautifully stylised and distinctive, even if some of them don’t really make a lot of sense when you stop to think about them for more than a moment.
Why would you make your ship’s A.I. in the form of a pregnant woman made of gold in a fairly provocative pose? I guess the answer to that is “Well why WOULDN’T you do that?”. This universe seems to be all about the visuals more than anything else, and inherently there’s nothing at all wrong with that. The ships are strangely biomechanical and insectoid, the guns with their strange lingering beams of destruction are something unique, the design of the rest of the Tracy feels solid and lived in, a nice contrast to the weird and wonderful things that go on outside the ship.
The focus here, other than the visual design, is solidly on the music, with plenty of time given to appreciate the soundtrack laid down by Carpenter Brut. If you didn’t like Turbo Killer, you’re not going to like this as it’s much of the same, heavy, synth and drum driven retrowave style. Personally I think it works well, the music a pleasant listen in its own right, but then the film was designed as much for the music as anything else, rather than working the other way around as soundtracks normally do.
The acting on display is fairly decent all in all. Vascan is a misogynistic asshole, Lago is the world-weary and experienced sidekick, and Corey is the mysterious woman with all the answers but no inclination to share them, and while their performances won’t set the world on fire, each of them seems to grow more comfortable and settled into their roles as the story progresses. Plenty could be said about the feminist overtones here, how the men are portrayed as reacting with violence to solve their issues before any other option, but on the internet that’s a hole with no bottom so we’ll leave you to make your own minds up about what the themes of the film might be trying to say.
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Blood Machines is going to be a polarising film. Either you’ll love it for the visuals and audio or you’ll hate it for the same reason. You’ll either accept that a lot of the story doesn’t really make much sense and 90% of your questions will never be answered, or you won’t. I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of middle ground in audience reactions.
Would I buy it if it got a physical release? I think so. The visuals are gorgeous (4/5), the soundtrack is awesome (5/5) and it’s the kind of thing you could spend hours debating and discussing, but it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea as the story is such a mess (2/5), and we’re going to reflect that in the somewhat neutral overall score.
Blood Machines premieres on Shudder on Thursday 21st May.