Cinema Quarantino, Film, Film Review

REVIEW: Blood Machines (2019) dir. Raphaël Hernandez & Savitri Joly-Gonfard

Now streaming on Shudder


Could we ever think of the horror world without John Carpenter? As the genre stretches in different terrains under a scary film’s stratosphere, Carpenter’s name is somewhere in the sky, permanently etched. If not solely for the title of “influential director,” his staying power extends to different segments of his works over the year. More notably and impressively, his dual role as composer is a specific elevation unattainable by even the most recognizable directors. Even when I was younger and hadn’t watched Halloween yet, I knew that mid-2000s ringtone icons Three 6 Mafia had, and I knew from then, the ominous undercurrent of the piano riff became synonymous of a lurking danger afoot. For anyone who appreciates movies, little explanation is needed than the importance of music in film, often coming hand in hand for the greater good for storytelling. Carpenter is undoubtedly one of the biggest champions of the conversation, describing that making music is “the purest form there is.”

In the same year where Halloween slashed through the fall box office, MTV had premiered the first music video on its network earlier in the summer. Even at the conception of visual formats for music, “Video Killed the Radio Star” had managed to set a standard for storytelling within a song’s length, far beyond a standard video comprised of full shots of the band performing. The significance of narrative music videos was an artistic venture, where it can either choose to execute a story where the lyrics could provide as captions or dive off the deep end with its own kooky plot. An argument can be placed that a lot of music videos today exist as promotional accompaniment, slewed with wordless celebrity cameos and product placements. In the same hand that killed the radio star, MTV’s involvement with selling value may have destroyed the weirdness of video storytelling.

When “Turbo Killer” came onto YouTube four years and had amassed millions of views, it feels like something cosmic had happened. An independent music video shrouded in the aesthetic of a found VHS tape, “Turbo Killer” contains bizarre imagery of mechanical integration and Blade Runner-esque effects that also set an extraordinary uniqueness of a galaxy, belonging all to its own. Without an expounding introduction or background, the music video developed and closed on itself by servicing to ’80s cyberpunk and the origins of innovative visual stories. If the Christine-like aspects in the video weren’t enough of a tip off, the mind behind “Turbo Killer” is French electronic musician Carpenter Brut, a blended homage of techno duo Justice, a champagne brand, and of course, John Carpenter.

Blood Machines is the sequel to “Turbo Killer,” crafted by the same forces (Carpenter Brut for the titillating synths, “Seth Erickman” — the team of Raphaël Hernandez and Savitri Joly-Gonfard — for the writing and directing). The marriage of human anatomy and machinery that was prominent in the music video is heavily carried into the story of two space hunters who come across a dying ship belong to a group of women. The film vibrates from start to end for 50 minutes divided into three chapters titled by character name. “Chapter One: Mima” is the death and rebirth of the dying ship Mima, where in its final breath a naked woman escapes from beneath the ship’s metallic skin and propels herself into the galaxy. The two space hunters pursue her, despite not knowing the exact danger they’re getting into. It seems like the escaped woman represents something more insidious to come, or perhaps it could be something more hopeful. After all, Vascan (Anders Heinrichsen) doesn’t seem to be hero to root for; his character reads as a Kushner brother playing Mad Max to the utmost toxic motor-road masculinity.

The opposition between sex is as strongly focal (Vascan’s companion, Lago, is relatively more sensitive to the women) as the dependence to surrounding technology, generating a quiet interchange between women and machine. Vascan subjects Tracy, the computational mind behind his ship and is physically represented by a statue in the middle of the pilot’s pit, to verbal and physical abuse. He says vile things to Corey (Elisa Lasowski), one of the women from the Mima ship, as he takes her hostage. And all around them, the environment resembles human bodies. Wires in the ship’s interior looks like sinewy muscles; the bruising nebulas resemble broken capillaries. It feels intrusively grotesque and the metaphor is not lost to the audience.

For less than an hour, Blood Machines is a powerful thrashing set to the loudness of Carpenter Brut’s synthesizers, barely losing energy in sound, effects, or intrigue. The rise to the climax(es) is thrilling and high-risk, and once you get to the apex of “Chapter Two: Corey,” you can probably guess who Chapter Three is going to be named after. Bringing up John Carpenter was no fluke; the director has spoken highly of synthesizers and had narrated the 2019 documentary The Rise of the Synths. He would indubitably love Blood Machines. And I have faith that Seth Erickman and Carpenter Brut are going to make waves in horror for the next years to come, where I’d like to imagine that Carpenter Brut is looking up at the sky from time to time.

Blood Machines
dir. Raphaël Hernandez & Savitri Joly-Gonfard
50 min.

Now streaming on Shudder!

Streaming is no substitute for taking in a screening at a locally owned cinema, and right now Boston’s most beloved theaters need your help to survive. If you have the means, the Hassle strongly recommends making a donation, purchasing a gift card, or becoming a member at the Brattle Theatre, Coolidge Corner Theatre, and/or the Somerville Theatre. Keep film alive, y’all.

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