BLOOD MACHINES, the space opera directed by the French duo under the pseudonym Seth Ickerman, is a synth-packed love letter to Blade Runner updated for current times. To describe the story spanning three episodes of around twenty minutes each would be to deny the full experience of strapping in and gripping your legs while careening through space.
BLOOD MACHINES serves as a sequel to the 2016 music video Turbo Killer, the first collaboration of Seth Ickerman and synth-artist Carpenter Brut. Turbo Killer is a sprint on the senses with hot neon colors flickering between the edges of a dark, machine-influenced future-scape. As the track hits 60mph, the imagery hits harder and faster with a mysterious character in a gas mask driving a woman to rescue another from a pink prism prison.
I’m sure that sentence didn’t make much sense without having seen the video. That’s the point. Turbo Killer is to be seen and shared. It’s fun. It’s sexy. It’s provocative. The synth slaps.
BLOOD MACHINES follows and expands upon the themes of Turbo Killer, injecting the idea of machines with “souls” into the slick computer-generated landscape of color and light. The visuals are STUNNING. How do you make a laser gun bleed? What is the nature of so many moving parts bigger than those who control them? What is space when the ships are broken and disintegrating? Seth Ikerman answers these questions by taking the viewer across the universe itself in pursuit of an “entity”, possibly the soul of a ship downed by two male “scrappers” onto a planet of machine worshipping priestesses.
Because that’s the one flaw of BLOOD MACHINES. Where TURBO KILLER had no dialogue, BLOOD MACHINES has characters with names and desires and… they’re pretty broad. For example, because this bothered me, in Chapter 2 COREY, Vascan (the captain of his two man ship) has seen the “entity” rise from a downed spacecraft after the priestess, Corey, released her through a drunken fuel ceremony. He then manhandles Corey and… threatens to assault her? He kidnaps her back to his ship… because “I’ve been fucking machines so long, I’m starting to smell like them”? It’s unnecessary, fabricated drama that came out of nowhere. The BLOOD MACHINES and TURBO KILLER are all edge and sex so elements of psychosexual tension are completely valid and desired. But going straight to “and now we show you that he’s a rapist” is, well, flat. It’s a blunt hit in a series with so much nuance, it’s hard not to be taken out of the piece as a whole. And while that may be my own preference, it’s an example of a general issue with the series. With dialogue, the characters come off one-dimensional.
And yet, that’s my one issue. BLOOD MACHINES is powerful in its execution. We arrive at the finale where, again I cannot spoil this experience for you, everything we’ve experienced tangentially suddenly comes into play as a beautiful and haunting mechanical ballet. Indeed the story told in the physical moves of these characters, the vulnerability in their expressions and the sheer provocation of the female form as related to the “spirit” of the machine is, at times, breathtaking. The score, perfect, as it lulls you into a false sense of safety only to ramp up, tossing the viewer into the fray.
BLOOD MACHINES is nostalgia on crack. A beautiful triumph of collaboration overall. BLOOD MACHINES premieres on Shudder on Thursday, May 21, 2020.