Billed as a psychological horror film, Machination opens with a brief shot of Maria (Steffi Thake, 13 Hours, The Viper’s Pit) floating in the ocean before launching into a credit sequence filled with images of hypodermic needles, microbes, hypodermic needles and infection rates. Yes, it’s yet another pandemic-driven microbudget genre effort. This one totally improvised and shot for a little over six thousand dollars
As the film proper begins Maria takes a bus home to her sunny, spacious apartment, quickly strips down to her underwear and washes herself before donning a fresh pair of gloves to put her clothes in the washing machine and then wash her shoes and the furniture near the door. A little excessive maybe? That takes up almost the first ten minutes of this hour-long film. And apart from the fact that Maria does look good in her undies, it’s incredibly dull. I was beginning to wonder if Machination wasn’t some odd fetish film by the time this scene was over.
And that’s a pretty fair approximation of just what the rest of Machination is like. Maria talks on the phone about how worried she is about the pandemic, she takes a shower, she breaks down crying while putting her makeup on. After somebody at the bus stop coughs, she rushes back home, calls her boss Ian (Sean James Sutton, Curse of the Blind Dead, The Dead Bride), says she won’t be in and starts cleaning the apartment.
If you’re wondering when the horror starts, the short answer is, never. Machinations is primarily a portrait of a troubled woman losing her grip in the isolation that COVID brought on. Yes, what happens to her is tragic, but there’s nothing about it that creates a feeling of dread. This isn’t a horror film at all, it’s a drama and not a particularly good one.
Maria as a character is a realistic look at how if left untreated, undiagnosed mental illness can spiral out of control. Machination also focuses on how family members, despite their best efforts to understand their loved ones’ mental health issues, often are not mentally or emotionally capable to to assist or prevent situations from escalating.
Co-directed by Ivan Malekin and Sarah Jayne from a script by Malekin, Machination obviously wants to make a statement about mental health. But what they’ve come up with is muddled and uninvolving. Whether that’s the result of the film being improvised and constantly changing during rehearsals and shooting or if there never was any real focus I can’t say. But I certainly have my suspicions.
It’s also interesting to note that while we hear about the pandemic on the radio, Maria is the only person we see wearing a mask. The food delivery person, the guy at the bus stop, and her landlord, none of them are masked and act like she’s crazy to try and keep distanced. We see no other signs of a pandemic in the film’s exteriors either. It’s almost as if the makers of Machination are trying to say that you had to be crazy to take COVID seriously in the first place.
That would certainly explain the film’s title. The definition of machination is “ A crafty scheme or cunning design for the accomplishment of a sinister end”. And how often did we see posts and YouTube videos claiming it was either a hoax or machination if you prefer, so some group or another could seize power/cull the world’s population via a poisoned vaccine/get even richer?
While it does feature a strong performance by Steffi Thake in what is basically a one-woman show, that’s not enough to save Machination from itself. It’s a muddled, pretentious, drama with a cliched ending and a dose of COVID disinformation as an added bonus. And calling it a horror film is just adding insult to injury.
Machination premieres on digital platforms on May 20th from Nexus Production Group. You can check their Facebook page or the film’s website for more information. And you can check FilmTagger for more viewing ideas.