Frightfest: T Blockers (2023)

Director: Alice Maio Mackay

Running Time: 75 Minutes

Starring: Lauren Last, Lewi Dawson, Lisa Fanto, Toshiro Glenn, Stanley Browning, Joe Romeo, Etcetera Etcetera

Opening on a black-and-white sequence, a horror host (Etcetera Etcetera) introduces the next film by declaring that this work of fantastic fiction is more real that viewers realise. This effectively conveys what Alice Maio Mackay captures with her latest work which, despite a fantastical premise, is driven by affecting real-life issues.

Rising from beneath a small town, ancient parasites which thrive on hatred begin taking control of the most fearful and susceptible residents. Haunted by visions of the parasitic creatures feasting on flesh, young trans filmmaker Sophie (Lauren Last) becomes the only person who can sense the possessed and rallies together a resistance to prevent the horror from spreading.

Astoundingly made when she was aged seventeen, co-writer/co-producer/director Mackay delivers an impressive work for only her third feature. The vibrant work delivers an eye-catching style alongside killer lines, including a humorous gag praising a film's excessive exposition, although one wishes less of the action was impacted by shaky camera-work. It is also an urgent piece driven by queer rage which mixes real-world issues with B-movie entertainment to enthralling effect.

There is a refreshing disinterest in mincing words as the film speaks from understandable anger, with the most susceptible people taken as hosts including a follower of hatemongering bigots, and revealing a worm as the true form of the parasites feeding on rejection to spread transphobia. Amongst them is Adam (Stanley Browning), who was previously rejected by Sophie upon discovering he was a chaser who disregarded her humanity to instead fetishize her.

Uniting in their favourite bar which has broken CCTV cameras, what should be the main characters' safe space only offers the illusion of safety within increasingly hostile times. When an anti-trans protest is allowed to happen unchecked by the police, it rings true how such civility would not be allowed by law enforcement for a less-hateful cause, bringing to mind how the UK's vigil for Sarah Everard descended into a trampling of human rights. As a 90's movie warns that what happened will happen again, it resonates with how hatred never truly leaves, only biding its time until the bigotry can be spread again.

It can feel like a losing battle when such hate feels overwhelming, and Last effectively captures that pain which led to her putting up walls against a tough world. It is also touchingly conveyed how she is not alone in this uphill battle, surrounded by people offering love and support throughout these difficult times. From bonding with brother London (Joe Romeo) about their own monsters, to the charming interactions with love-interest Kriss (Toshiro Glenn), and heartwarming scenes with best-friend Spencer (Lewi Dawson), there is constant understanding between these characters which helps make the relationships easy to root for. It is all part of this unapologetically queer cry of fury, passionately taking a baseball bat to an unjust world which emboldens hatred before wisely sharing to not fuck with queer filmmakers.

T Blockers made its European Premiere at Frightfest 2023