Writer/director Alice Maio Mackay is 18 years old; it seems almost obligatory that this be mentioned as her third feature film, T Blockers, premieres at Fantasia. It’s an unquestionably impressive feat, and the film also hints at the rapid development of her cinematic style alongside the growth of her still-nascent career. T Blockers operates simultaneously as a defiant political throwdown and a campy alien invasion horror-comedy, and for the most part, it balances those tones with an adept hand. Mackay absolutely has something to say, and no one’s going to stop her from having as much fun as possible on the way.
T Blockers namechecks its influences, chiefly John Waters and Gregg Araki, and announces alongside its title card that this is “a transgender & queer film,” just so the perspective being offered is clear. Most shots are awash in neon, and the camera is usually intimately close to the actors’ faces. This style is most effectively demonstrated in the coming-of-age scenes between Sophie (Lauren Last) and her friends — especially Lewi Dawson as Spencer. Sophie is a young girl going through transition, popping hormone pills, lamenting the high costs of surgery, and hearing the latest anti-trans rhetoric (courtesy of Australian politicians) on the news every day… all while dealing with dating and — eventually — aliens. Mackay excels at staging one-on-one conversations between people struggling to articulate their emotions, moving the shot-reverse-shot formula toward something more penetrating, in part because the performers seem organic, but also because the camera seems to find them constantly exposing their innermost vulnerabilities.
Still, this is also a movie that sees various heads bashed in, and for good reason. The meta-constructs (and there are several) threaten to overload an otherwise deeply intimate (and gross-out) teen tale, but somehow they work. For instance, the idea is introduced that a random amateur SOV (shot on video) horror movie from the early ‘90s was actually real and is happening again, which is a premise one could get behind; this playful suggestion positions such films not only as easily enjoyable outsider art, but also contends that their utter bizarreness perhaps reflects not technical incompetence, but authenticity. T Blockers’ primary fumble, then, are the extended Elvira-esque scenes of that long-lost film’s narrator, played by Drag Race Down Under star Etcetera Etcetera. They are fun at first, but tend to outstay their welcome, and eventually come to feel like an excuse to pad out the runtime. This limitation parallels the film’s general disinterest in anything resembling traditional pacing, which tends to lessen the impact of its more brutal scenes of horror, as they end up somewhat neglected amid the film’s larger concerns.
T Blockers can and should also be forgiven for having its characters speak out the film’s politics very directly, as they and the filmmakers alike are under threat; Mackay has quickly become a cult figure that these communities respond to precisely because of her specific voice and how it engages with the cultural moment. Here in her world, hate is a corrosive and alien force, and much is made of Sophie’s cynicism in response to it all. It’s more than understandable, but as a group forms around her to fight back, hope re-emerges, and the future seems within their grasp once again. Mackay is, without a doubt, an artist to watch.
Published as part of Fantasia Fest 2023 — Dispatch 2.