Fantastic Fest 2019 Movie Review: ‘Blood Machines’ Is A Synthy, Feverish Space Adventure

There’s something about synth music… the low, humming electronic tones immediately rocket the listener into the future. Not only the future, but the dreams of people living in the future. The music feels otherworldly, powering the films of John Carpenter, the music of Kielen King, and now the new 50-minute film, Blood Machines (2019). The brainchild of Seth Ickerman (the nom de plume of a French directing duo Raphaël Hernandez and Savitri Joly-Gonfard) and French synth-wave artist Carpenter Brut, Blood Machines follows two bounty hunters across space as they track down a rogue A.I.

Low budget sci-fi always invigorates me more than the triple-A stuff ever will. Space and science fiction have always been about where we can go and what we can accomplish, and that subject matter just doesn’t hum and howl with quite the same resonance in the hands of less hungry filmmakers. Low budget sci-fi is how we get John Carpenter’s Dark Star, Ridley Scott’s Alien, and David Twohy’s Pitch Black. Blood Machines joins this noble company with an imagination bigger than any budget and the technical know-how to match. 

A conceptual sequel to the work Ickerman did with Carpenter Brut on the music video for his song, “Turbo Killer,” Blood Machines screeches with color and noise, sex and pathos. Every laser beam and spaceship has the wondrous oozing quality of H.R. Geiger’s work, and the A.I., known in the film as The Entity, has the otherworldly raw sexuality of Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce. The bounty hunters, with Vascan (played with genre-perfect arrogance by Anders Heinrichsen) as the hot-headed, violent, “shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later” half of the duo, and Lago (played with world-weariness and approachability by Christian Erickson) as the machine-loving older veteran hoping to be Vascan’s voice of reason.

The A.I.’s escape and possession of a starship during the events of the “Turbo Killer” music video bring her to a rogue planet filled with strange cultists obsessed with the humanity of machines. The bounty hunters react to this belief system differently: Vascan believes they’re deluded savages while Lago understands them, having spent so much time interfacing with Tracy, the A.I. in the hunters’ ship. 

The strain between the organic and inorganic, metal and flesh, and practical and digital special effects is at the pulsing metallic heart of Blood Machines. It’s a tension that infects every frame like a virus, computer or otherwise. As The Entity, a completely naked woman (again, a la Lifeforce), first emerges from inside the bowels of a starship, the cultists battle against Vascan’s laser rifle with sticks, clubs, and stone knives. The starships have design features that look like eyes and teeth, and emit noises like human groans. Even space itself takes on the organic geometry of The Entity in the film’s anthemic, overstimulating hyperspace sequences. 

Aesthetically, Blood Machines feels as ambitious as the science fiction we’d seen in anime such as Akira, Cowboy Bebop, and Outlaw Star. The color and galactic skyscapes, the searing neon cross emblazoned across The Entity’s naked body, and the retina-sizzling afterimages left from Vascan’s laser rifle, all commingle into an alcoholic soup of light best chugged in one frantic gulp. Carpenter Brut’s music, heavy and electronic, boosts the film into orbit, creating a thrilling, 50-minute sci-fi classic that displays the creators’ vision, ambition, imagination, and recklessness. 

Blood Machines is a damn good time with passion, power, momentum and unforgettable imagery laser-etched into every frame. Moreover, and I only get to use this phrase once in my entire career as a film reviewer, it’s out of this world. Thanks to Fantastic Fest 2019 for premiering it and giving me the opportunity to experience this magical film!

About Billie Wood

Billie is a horror obsessed writer with a love of Giallo, Vincent Price, and any horror movie set in the West. She can't wait to tell you about how Videodrome is a sci-fi horror love letter to trans girls like her.

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