Blood Machines: All Style and Somehow Negative Substance.
So before I actually begin laying out my thoughts I feel I have to get some background out of the way. I backed the original Kickstarter back in 2016, as I (and a whole lot of others it seems) was blown away by the Turbo Killer video that preceded Blood Machines. It had an original delivery date of December 2017, which absolutely did not happen. In 2019 the producers launched a second Kickstarter to raise more money (75% of the original campaign to be specific) to complete the film as "their ambitions have increased to take the film from 30 minutes to 50 minutes, so more money is needed to finish the film", which to someone who is learning about the ins and outs of the film industry is a HUGE red flag, and said to me that this might be a lot rougher around the edges than I would expect for something that took this long. I don't want to sound like I'm shitting on the creators of this for taking too long, I know art takes time, and that they shouldn't need to rush themselves to put out a great piece of work.
Blood Machines however, isn't that.
I mention all this stuff because I had high expectations for this: the Turbo Killer video was great, the trailers for this looked amazing, and any new music from Carpenter Brut is absolutely good stuff. But when it released I had just forgotten about it, and it sat in my "to watch" list.
That is, until today.
So without further adieu, this is: Blood Machines.
FULL FILM SPOILERS AHEAD
So right on the outset the film doesn't explain a lot (a very common theme), we get a small blurb talking about a ship, named the Mima, with a defective AI that is destroyed, and it has crashed onto an unknown planet called Apus 7. This is the most explanation you get of anything throughout the whole film. Seriously. It's very keen on keeping things to itself and letting the viewer make their own conclusions, which is fine, but there's a difference between letting things be ambiguous for effect and just not saying anything at all. Funnily enough, this blurb is actually a scene in the script (which is included with the Kickstarter tier I got) and it would have been nice to see it in a scene rather than a text blurb, which illustrates how the film starts, and even explains some imagery later on that we never get to see because the original thing it references is not in the film. This would have been integral to see, but it got cut for some reason, and it's the only piece of explanation we get.
The film then introduces us to our 2 leads.. I think. They are the focus of the film for 80% of it, but then the focus changes to a character we meet later in this first scene, so it's an interesting choice if it was deliberate, but it doesn't do the film any favors.
The first character we hear is Vascan, our "charismatic and manly" lead, who not only has the weakest performance in the film (I know the film is french, and I know English is clearly not the actor's first language, but either get a different actor, or do the film in french, it would have seriously benefited from either of those choices.), he is also so UNBELIEVABLY unlikable it's crazy. Right out the gate he is a prick, shooting the inside of the ship because it doesn't work right, because shooting your ship definitely fixes it, and he is just so insanely toxic it's insane, extremely rude at best, and downright implying rape at worst, if we're supposed to like him, it SUPER didn't work, because this is just a disgusting character.
The second character is Lago, the mechanic of the ship, who seems to really care about the ship itself, as the ships have AI's in them that controls the ship (similar to Farscape if anyone has seen that). His character is pretty inoffensive really, he doesn't do much except for try and fix the ship and show that he has a heart condition, which has no impact for his character other than just to show how he dies later on, and that he believes that ships have souls. He says this while clutching a cross necklace, which implies some kind of religion. Don't worry about it though, cause it's never explained.
Neither character have an arc, they don't change, so it feels like they just exist because they need to, which this film has a lot of. Neither of these characters are good, one exists to be the good person and the other exists to be the scum of the fucking earth.
They have landed on Apus 7 facing the husk of the Mima, and Lago and Vascan squabble about how the ship isn't working and, as mentioned previously, Vascan shoots it to bypass automatic settings, which breaks a piece off and reveals that the ship bleeds, implying there is more to the machinery than just metal. It doesn't go into the topic any more than that. Once Vascan reaches the surface he confronts scavengers trying to fix the ship who are specifically noted as women by Vascan. The scavengers approach Vascan and he threatens them with his gun, and as they try to explain they want to fix the ship, using the terminology "save her" specifically, he says "it's just a ship" and shoots it, causing the ship to literally screech and move. This tries to do the "is it ethical to kill artificial intelligence, and is artificial intelligence sentient" idea most Sci-Fi tries, but it really does nothing with this in a smart way, it goes EXTREMELY literal with this in it's climax, which isn't inherently bad, but ends up being really lackluster.
As the scavengers and Vascan argue, Vascan turns to notice that the ship is being attacked by other scavengers, where he turns to fight them. a small action scene happens where Lago has his heart attack just to show that he has a bad heart, and that Tracy, their ship's AI is very selective on when it wants to work and when it doesn't, again, demonstrating that the AI is sentient and not influenced by commands.
The Scavengers come to the conclusion that the ship is dead and they have a ritual to put it to rest... I think. The music swells and everything becomes dark and the Carpenter Brut logo appears on the ground as like a pentagram, which knowing where the logo comes from is way more cheesy than it is dramatic. That "Brutagon" is a key design element in the film, and where it made sense for the Turbo Killer music video, since it was just a music video, here it just looks really cheesy and out of place. As the ritual takes place one of the scavengers drinks some fluid from the ship and straddles it, as what looks like a feminine figure passes through the ship. the figure emerges as a fully nude woman flying out of the ship, ascending into the sky. We're shown Lago's reaction to this, and the film cuts to black.
CHAPTER 2 appears on screen.
Yeah this is a film with completely stupid chapter divisions. My best guess it was done for Shudder, the films current distributor, as it is listed as 3 different chapters for ABSOLUTELY no good reason, because having chapters would assume this is something that has so much to tell it needs to be broken up, but it's A: only 50 mins long, and B: it's story makes so little sense it's unnecessary. It breaks up the pacing of an already confusing film.
After the chapter screen we see Lago talking to someone on a video phone named Gandor, who is the commander of something. Even the script doesn't have a proper description, all we know is that he has a big ship, and the scavengers and scared of it.
Vascan then approaches Corey (one of the scavengers who only named once halfway through this scene) on the Mima ship and is weirdly rapey, saying that he hasn't had sex with a woman in so long, and that she would be a good replacement for the "machines" he's had to use. This caught me SO off guard it turned me off the film and this character pretty much immediately. This is exploitation film levels of character interaction, and if that's what this film is trying to emulate (as the film has this very grindhouse-esque filter over the whole thing) It doesn't justify this really bad character moment, and Vascan never changes, he just continues being like this, extremely aggressive and smug in his shittiness.
Vascan brings Corey onto their ship and they tell Gandor they're gonna chase the thing that came out of the ship, and that the "Machine revolution may have been provoked by an outside force, not by a desire for freedom" which is a line I didn't fully take in because Vascan's performance is so bad, I only found this out from reading the script. This information would have been better to tell in the intro, because what are the details of this rebellion? Why does Gandor care? Why does Vascan and Lago care? Who knows, it clearly doesn't matter.
They follow the Spirit (which will henceforth be called Mima) and we get a visual and musical sequence over title credits, (Ah yes, title credits over the second chapter in a three chapter story, and 20 minutes into your 50 minute film. EXCELLENT pacing) and here is what the film does best, the visuals and music. It looks great... mostly. Some of the CG looks a bit rougher than other parts, but most of it blends really nicely and it looks great. the colors are beautiful, and the set dressing on the ship looks top notch. The soundtrack is also great, Carpenter Brut brings his best, but I think scoring isn't really his strongest suit, it pales in comparison to Leather Teeth and Trilogy, but it's still really good all the same, don't get me wrong.
However, one thing this sequence shows in spades is how much this film loves TNA. Now I have no problem with nudity, or have any issue with the feminine body. Nudity in a film is perfectly fine, and when the film knows how to use it, it can make scenes all that much more powerful. But this is over the top. We get literally every single camera shot IMAGINABLE of Mima's nude form, even a shot that has a light rising from behind her ass. I'm not making this up, and I laughed out loud at how hilarious it was, Blood Machines LOVES to show nude women, to the point where it feels a bit exploitative. Again, I don't want this to sound like I think films can't do nudity with women, but this feels less like it has a purpose and more like it's the directors' personal spank material.
Once the scene ends, they reach a graveyard of ships, and Mima flies into a giant one on the center. Vascan tries to land the ship smoothly on the giant ship.. asteroid.. thing, but does it really aggressively and roughly by shooting the ship with harpoon like things, which causes Corey, who is handcuffed in the back of the ship, to flinch as if she had been shot, implying that she has a connection with this ship. We learn nothing about it and it's never explained. Once the ship lands, Vascan turns to Corey and says "see how gentle I can be" which just added more slime to this already slimy character.
Corey and Vascan leave the ship to investigate, and end up in a room designed from top to bottom in pentagons (more CB logo stuff) and they see Mima in the back in shock, and when they see her, Corey laughs and Vascan gets nervous and pushes her to the ground for not explaining anything (as a normal person would do, clearly), causing the floor to light up in the "Brutagon" saw earlier in the ship ritual. Corey gets up and approaches Vascan, and he starts to get frightened and tries to shoot her, but his gun is jammed. Corey approaches closer and throws the gun on the ground as she says to him "You said it's been a long time since you were with a woman" and gets closer before saying "Maybe you've forgotten how to treat us", before he hits her with his gun. (in the script Vascan punches Corey, which I'm not surprised got changed during filming.)
CHAPTER 3 appears, again ruining any pacing this bad scene already had.
Corey then says to be gentle with her, and Vascan then grabs her throat. Mima then appears from off screen and starts running her hands over Vascan, and at this point my jaw was on the floor because this scene became so full of sexual tension that is not at all deserved and it feels so disgusting. Corey goes in for a kiss and Vascan just kind of stands there and takes it, in one of the most awkward kisses I've seen, and pushes her away, still with his hand on her throat. He slides his hand away and the camera changes to his POV and we see Corey crouching in front of Vascan, and at this point I paused the film because I just cannot believe what was happening. This scene has far surpassed any dramatic tension, it's become "the start of a porn scene" level of plot relevance. I know the point is that Corey is trying to use Vascan's lust and desire to have sex lower his defenses before he is killed, but this would actually mean something if I had some level of connection to him, Corey, or Mima, but I really don't. I have no attachment to these characters, I know nothing about them, I really don't have any idea why they are where they are, it all seems to be done for the sake of doing it, and this scene feels like it was written by a horny 15 year old.
But once the scene plays out she picks the gun up from the floor after Vascan drops it, because he's just suddenly lost all agency because he thinks he's about to get his dick sucked, and does absolutely nothing to try and stop Corey before she shoots him through the chest. Fine. Whatever. He's dead, nothing sexual actually happened, the scene was just a horrendous train wreck.
Back on the ship, Lago gets a notification that vital signs for Vascan have been lost, and he tries to leave the ship to save him, but Tracy won't let him out, pulling a HAL on him, causing him to try and do what Vascan did earlier and just beat the ship up to get out, even though he has demonstrated he believes the ships have souls and are alive, so there goes his only interesting character trait. We then see Corey drinking Vascan's blood from his intestines (for some reason) and then it cuts to Lago ripping out the wiring from Tracy's command center (Which is designed like a nude woman, because of course it is) to try and manually re-wire the cannons to blow up the ship/asteroid they landed on
Tracy tells Lago that Vascan has arrived back on the ship, and Vascan's body slowly walks up to Lago, with the giant hole still in his body, which causes Lago to have another heart attack and collapse. Lago is now dead. He didn't develop at all and had no real point. We then cut to Corey with a face of mourning, as if she can see the body... somehow. The body of Vascan calls Gandor and tells him he and Lago followed the ship and now they need help. Gandor asks that how does he know Vascan hasn't been "compromised by the entity" which seems like something that should have been explained, but we can just add that to the pile of things that weren't. Vascan says that he is compromised, and this is him coming through to ask for help, while we see Corey saying the same things to Vascan, who is still on the graveyard ship with Corey, but his body is on the Tracy ship talking to Gandor? Is Tracy using Vascan's soul to control his corpse? I don't fucking know, the film doesn't explain it. Vascan's corpse (?) ends his call with Gandor by shooting himself in the head with his pistol. Vascan is now dead. He had no arc, he never changed, we know nothing of importance about him. The first two characters we were introduced to are now dead and that fact has changed absolutely nothing about the progression of the film. That's what I call good writing.
Vascan's soul body (?) then collapes into the floor where Corey and Mima are, and the floor starts rising until it locks into this big area where is obviously a set piece for a big finale fight. Corey puts on a gas mask (similar to the one from the Turbo Killer video) and awakens all the spirits of the dead ships in the graveyard, which are all more nude women. They all fly over to where Corey is and they all land together, all posed. Gandor's ship arrives and Corey starts using some kind of force powers (IT'S NOT EXPLAINED) to move the women around, which correspond to throwing ship parts at Gandor's ship. As the fight progresses the soul of Tracy emerges from the center console of the their ship, and slides over and caresses Lago's body, showing the ships are sentient and have feelings after all, which was already illustrated in the first scene by the Mima ship screaming when it was shot by Vascan.
Corey then flies Mima into Gandor's ship, causing her to die (her eyes go white and the ship that corresponded with her body explodes, even though the ship she was associated with was killed in THE FIRST SCENE so the logic here makes no sense? And I think the souls can die, but then how has the others souls not died when they blew up? Who cares?) and eventually all the souls climb onto a pile and create a black hole that sucks up Gandor's ship (somehow, I've given up trying to figure out why) which turns his ship and all the other ships in the graveyard into a giant nude woman. Yep, a physical manifestation of "machines becoming flesh" so literal its not even like a machine that is in the shape of a woman, it ACTUALLY grows flesh. Somehow. And of course the first thing we see develop into flesh is the figure's breasts. Because of course it is. The form moves and its heart becomes a giant Carpenter Brut logo (which at this point doesn't even phase me and just seems really lame), and we see Lago's eyes flash open, showing that the Tracy soul has given him life because he was good (? I GUESS?) and the Tracy ship flies into the Brutagon and the film cuts to black.
Only to see Vascan's soul trapped in the flesh of the being (which is supposedly in the position of Tracy's center console from the beginning of the film according to the script, but Vascan here is only fully visible for a whole second, and his whole body is covered in flesh so you can't even see it), but and when he wakes up, he screams, and the camera pulls out to show the full woman in a t-pose, upside down (It's like an upside down cross you guys see? That's also used to the point of nausea in this) in front of a giant Carpenter Brut Logo, radiating light, before the film fades to black.
And then credits.
So that's Blood Machines, and I'm almost shocked in how much I didn't like this. The plot was non-existent, the characters were one-note at best and OUTSTANDINGLY disgusting at worst, and it really does nothing to justify it's runtime. This feels unfinished. There's ideas here and world building that would be really interesting if fleshed out, but this doesn't do NEAR the amount of work it needs to do to get it's story off the ground. A key element with Sci-Fi is that since it's in a world that isn't out reality, it needs clear rules to establish to the audience what can and cannot be done. This explains none of those, so I'm left extremely confused on who has powers, what kind of powers they are, how do they have them, so many questions that could properly be answered in an expanded story. This feels exactly like the reason the team gave for needing a second Kickstarter, "Extremely ambitious" and in my opinion, too ambition. Too much material to try and cram into 50 minutes, and the whole piece suffers as a result. The performances are lackluster (This film really would have benefited from having the actors speak french and just had English subs to be perfectly honest). Not to mention the borderline exploitation of the female form and scenes/dialog that feel straight out of teenager's sadistic wet dream. While the visuals and music are top notch here, they can't do much to save a film that is floundering in every other aspect. Waiting 4 years for this was a mistake.