'Blood Machines' Review: It's Sci-Fi Style Over Substance, But In A Good Way [Fantastic Fest 2019]

Back in 2016, Raphaël Hernandez and Savitri Joly-Gonfard (under the pseudonym "Seth Ickerman") became internet sensations after directing Carpenter Brut's "Turbo Killer" music video. Some seven million views and three years later, "Ickerman" returns with more hyper-stylized synthwave sensationalism in the fiftyish-minute sequel Blood Machines. More intergalactic trance-pop imperialism, more Carpenter Brut nightline bass thumping, and way more crucifixion babes. Having now seen the music video and sequel, there's little to credit by way of narrative tissue – but that doesn't mean a damn thing. Cue the cyberpunk femme fatales and heavy saturation of red color filtration.Story construction revolves around Vascan (Anders Heinrichsen), his co-pilot Lago (Christian Erickson), and their conscious spaceship A.I. console. The two orbital hunters are searching for the "Mima," a "renegade ship piloted by an A.I. which is trying to free itself." What they find is a nude woman with a glowing cross on her chest who escapes from the disabled ship (Corey, played by Elisa Lasowski). Together they travel to an outer system graveyard for scrapped vessels, where s*** goes certifiably bonkers. There's body-swapping, telepathic dance choreography, glowing hexagonal pathways into the human soul – reader, I may still be high on Hernandez and Joly-Gonfard's potent strain of psychotropic 80s techno-gratuity.It becomes painfully obvious that influences are pulled everywhere from John Carpenter to gamer fantasies, hard science fiction to gothic heavy metal. Blood Machines is a cascade of cosmic DeviantArt meets Astron-6 with a glossy animated budget, like some not-so-distant cousin of Kung Fury. You hang tight until the zero-Gs kick in, then it's full-throttle into Mad Max alterations where spaceships are treated as beings. While dialogue may be no better than RPG cutscenes at times, "Ickerman" ensures visual overloads are enough to leave unprepared viewers comatose. The sweetest optical candy your eyes can ingest.You're not here for connective storytelling, especially at a splashy sub-sixty minutes – but, just to clarify, performances aren't key. Erickson does enough to guide us on a journey from space pirating to a reminiscent Suspiria vibe as females take over, but only enough. You're correct to assume Blood Machines is one massive music video that's always favoring fashion over fundamentals, in a totally NFSW way that offers only naked cross-carved roles for women. Hernandez and Joly-Gonfard expand their universe and don't bother to spell out exactly what it all means, plunging us into dystopian starbursts of decay we've no choice but to expect. Fine by me.Special effects showcases immediately kick in and never subside, from illuminated fibers flowing under flesh to metallic cruisers hurdling past galaxies. Practical composition and digital smokescreens create a maverick cosmos ecosystem brightened by neon photons or fiery religious symbols ignited like beacons. You don't need context as a gas-masked savior figure "force shoves" a platform of freed, stripped holy-girlies to Carpenter Brut's pulsating rhythms. As each woman twirls or collapses like a projectile, their linked spacecrafts then hurdle into outside landscape debris. I'm sure there's plenty of subtext in regards to female imprisonment or gender enslavement, but you're here for the lightspeed timewarp dance warfare.Had Blood Machines run over an hour, dare into ninety-minute territory, I might be carrying a different synthesized tune. Hernandez and Joly-Gonfard blast in, assault audience senses with afterburner intensity, and inject the short-form space opera we deserve into our brainwaves. Extended expansions might be a bit much, but let me tell you something – if we *ever* get a Heavy Metal 2.0 reboot in anthology format, Hernandez and Joly-Gonfard better get the call. Hail the new machines, birthed from scrapheaps and ready to rave until doomsday.Still with me, reader? What's left to say. Blood Machines is an automaton's substance-laced daydream without any eject pods in sight. You'll instantly be able to recognize if such a journey is your flavor of pill to pop, and if so, treat yourself to some Star Fox speedin' adventure with saccharine hypnotic qualities. It takes a hot second to charge all power cores, then unleashes enough astro-blaster energy to feed the planet's largest warehouse EDM festival. I wish there was a wee bit more reason, but who am I kidding – gimmie all that demigod-sexual science fiction exploitation./Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10