Taking over the Carbon Arc Cinema space this weekend is the fourth annual Hellifax Horror Fest, a burgeoning genre film festival this year screening a packed schedule of seven feature films and more than 30 shorts from Thursday through Sunday.
Of the films screening I’ve had the pleasure of seeing two.
The first is Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Human, a droll, Tim Burton-esque comedy horror from Quebec. It’s good fun — it was at #TIFF23, and you can click on the title for my festival review.
I’ve also seen an opening night feature: T-Blockers. It announces itself with an Elvira-like host before the main titles tell us we’re watching “A Transgender and Queer film by Alice Maio MacKay.” The filmmaker is 18 and has already directed two features, So Vam (now available on Shudder) and Bad Girl Boogey, with another in the can — nothing like a teenage phenom presenting her third feature to an audience halfway across the world to make you feel like you’ve been wasting your life.
In her director’s statement she says, “T Blockers is an authentic Australian trans horror film directed, co-produced, and co-written, by an at the time-17year-old trans and neurodivergent woman, shot with a predominantly queer, nonbinary, and trans cast/crew.” Wow.
T-Blockers is set in small town Australia, with transitioning teen Sophie (Lauren Last) scraping by with roomie and best pal, Spencer (Lewi Dawson), while also shooting horror movies with friends. Sophie is looking for love, but struggling in a town where anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment is growing. Worse, some of those intolerant assholes are ganging up on her friends, and there’s more to worry about in the form of weird parasitic creatures going viral.
MacKay uses a sci-fi concept — horrible, black worms that infect only white dudes — as analogous for right-wing bigotry. It’s both effective and kind of hilarious. The filmmaker’s also got a real talent with performers — T-Blockers is at its best when Sophie is hanging with Spencer and their friends, grousing about their problems or partying. There’s even time for a little romance.
It’s got a pretty impressive neon production design, a touch of Nicolas Winding Refn even though it’s clearly shot on a shoestring. The meta overlay of a trans teen making a movie about a trans teen moviemaker is kept on the right side of smug by throwing around a slew of horror references and shooting from the hip.
Can’t wait to see what MacKay does next.