When a space vessel goes rogue, fleet commander Galdor (Walter Dickerson) tasks Captain Vascan (Anders Heinrichsen) and his co-pilot/mechanic Lago (Christian Erickson) with retrieving it. Shooting it down from space to crash land on an unknown planet proves this story’s beginning rather than its end as we discover the destination was hardly some random accident. No, it’s exactly where the ship was headed because it is the only place with inhabitants who know its plight. Unlike Vascan’s crude sadist who’s all too happy to destroy it, Bald (Natasha Cashman) understands there’s more to its machinery than metal and her ritual to free its soul can commence as the sun becomes eclipsed. Once dismissed as “artificial intelligence” by its creators, Mima (Joëlle Berckmans) is granted human form.
Directors Seth Ickerman (who co-write with Paul La Farge) channels the visceral aesthetics of H.R. Giger and Clive Barker to deliver a 50-minute phantasmagoric film (chopped into three chapters for Shudder despite retaining its opening credits in the middle of Part Two) entitled Blood Machines. Vascan’s beast-like ship unhinges its jaw to lower its ramp and let his plasmablaster-wielding brute confront Bald and her scavengers. Her ritual allows Mima to manifest as a body swimming just below its outer shell in search of the escape hatch Corey (Elisa Lasowski) has ripped opened in its hull. Rising into the air as a naked woman marked by a glowing crucifix positioned upside down (intersecting between her hips before ascending to her sternum), its metamorphosis proves a religious experience.
The result is an unforgettably beautiful feat of special effects and atmospheric filters set against a propulsive synth score from Carpenter Brut—the whole at times feeling like an artistic dreamscape more suitable to a music video or art installation than a narrative film whose impressive a-list visuals are punctuated by silly b-movie humor. I actually wonder how much better it would play without dialogue since the emotive power of the main trio of actors (Heinrichsen, Lasowski, and Erickson) can come across as cartoonish when they open their mouths. We don’t need the words to understand the gender dynamics and feminist rebellion on display anyway. Vascan’s unchecked machismo, the spaceships lacking autonomy, and the woman who breaks free to cut the chains of her sisters is there regardless.
That it’s all shot with an obvious male gaze can often undermine these themes too, but it is gorgeous just the same. Dance choreography is used for its climactic battle while an android paying homage to Metropolis often becomes our objective eyes as it orchestrates events while serving as Mima’s emancipator. The characterizations are broad yet effective with Lago supplying some compassion when his being in control allows it to mask man’s intrinsic desire for power and Vascan embodying rape culture, entitlement, and toxicity without fail. It’s Lasowski’s show, though, as she’s never put in a situation she doesn’t allow. Her stoic demeanor is exactly what’s necessary to make Vascan think he has the upper hand when he’s actually playing right into hers. Nothing is done without purpose.
And staying in line with the music video aesthetic, nothing is fully explained. We’re given the room to interpret what happens as we see fit and simply bask in the visual splendor of space’s psychedelic lava lamp and the stark prisons that fly through it before being discarded and left for dead. A little clarity might help it all from being an attractive prologue to something bigger, but existing on those terms shouldn’t diminish its ability to excel within them. It’s definitely the kind of head-turning appetizer that will get a lot of people interested—either to expand its universe or enlist Ickerman to deliver something even weirder. Count me as a convert who will be queuing up to see whichever one it ends up being.
Blood Machines is now available to stream on Shudder.