Review by Sean Boelman
At only 18 years old, Australian filmmaker Alice Maio Mackay is already on her third feature film, and all three of them have gained a good deal of recognition among the genre cinephile community. Her latest, T Blockers plays like a queer version of the cult classic horror-comedy They Live, and if that pitch sounds like your thing, this is definitely a movie you’ll want to check out.
The film follows a young trans filmmaker as she discovers that the residents of her town are being infected by mysterious parasites, and she is the only one who can sniff them out. Mackay has taken this familiar premise and put a distinctly queer spin on it, and the result feels charming and creative despite its flaws.
As one may expect, the movie is extremely angry in its discussion of transphobia. The result is several story beats and lines of dialogue feeling very on-the-nose. And while the message of the film is undeniably important in a world that is increasingly hostile towards trans people, one can’t help but feel like this is preaching to the choir. The people who are going to seek out a crazy trans genre movie like this aren’t the ones who need to be learning about the dangers of transphobia.
One of the biggest shortcomings of the movie is that its character development is somewhat scant. The protagonist is compelling, but even her arc does not feel as pronounced as one would like. And the supporting characters — from the villains to the love interest and even the protagonist’s best friend/sidekick — never grow beyond their archetypes.
The pacing in the film is also a bit off. The horror elements of the movie are almost treated like a subplot for the first forty or so minutes, which have heavy romantic comedy elements to them. However, for the last thirty minutes, it kicks it into overdrive and ends up feeling somewhat rushed. With a runtime under 75 minutes, it would have been nice to see the film be a bit longer to allow its story to breathe a bit more.
Lauren Last gives a performance in the leading role that can only be described as “kickass.” She channels her inner Roddy Piper, delivering one liners while feeling effortlessly cool. However, there is also a very effective emotional side to her turn as well. In fact, Last is so good that she sticks out like a needle in a haystack — as everyone in the supporting cast is giving pretty standard B-movie turns while she totally dominates.
Mackay was clearly going for a particular B-movie look, and if you evaluate the movie by that standard, it’s very much a success. The cinematography is rough and the effects over the top, but it’s very fun in a campy way. Throw in some extremely youth-oriented soundtrack choices and a neon-drenched aesthetic, and you have a to-be cult classic for queer youth.
T Blockers isn’t a perfect film by any means, but Alice Maio Mackay takes a fun concept and brings a unique vision to it, creating an idiosyncratic yet approachable queer horror flick. But even beyond the great representation it offers, it’s just an all-around good time.
T Blockers is screening at Outfest, which runs in-person in Los Angeles from July 13-23, and online from July 17-30.