When I saw Elinor T. Vanderburg’s Bloodshot at the Exponential Festival last year, I enjoyed its neo-noir, pulp fiction vibe. It was a dystopian fiction where a strange insomnia plague descended upon New York and caused exhausted people to explode in splattergore fashion.
It was an interesting meeting of cinema and theater genres executed in a colorful nightclub-cum-streets of New York setting with a bombastic back-up band to boot.
A year later, after a real-life plague has suspended life as we knew it in New York City, Vanderburg’s story is harder to hold at a creative distance.
The same creative team behind the stage show (Vanderburg, director Sanaz Ghajar, the band The Mombs) have created a 40-minute short film sequel to the original play, Bloodshot: The Call, that follows in the footsteps of some of the same characters 4 years later.
Shot mostly in black and white, with occasional bursts of illustrative color, the insomnia epidemic continues unabated. Vanderburg’s characters’ world weariness from lack of sleep and the ever present “bloodshots” (when someone literally goes boom) cannot help but reflect a heightened version of our own pandemic anxiety and malaise.
“Do you really think you can survive another year?” one asks, and something we all may be asking ourselves on daily basis. One party animal begging for just “one decent Saturday night” may also reflect a certain level of pandemic desperation for some.
With noir self-awareness and black humor, protagonist, police major Bella Marjorie (Morgan Maguire) notes the most popular song on the radio is one called “Don’t Eat the Red Snow.” It’s a song written and performed by The Mombs. It’s a sax heavy, sonorous jam that is as catchy as it is instructive.
Major Marjorie (a tongue-twister for her junior colleague) is teetering on the edge. She misses her friend RJ (who we see in flashbacks and was at the center of the live show) and she gives us an existential picture on just what “coping” with this situation looks like. Bleary-eyed, confused, and reminiscent of that crispy jetlag feeling, this is not living. So, a question hangs over Marjorie, what if “Bloodshot is freedom?”
Gritty with a dream-like feel, the film with interstitial blackouts and a woozy, destabilizing sensation asks more questions than it answers. Assumingly filmed during the pandemic, they attempt to create scenes and dialogue between actors who are not in the same room. The film heavily depends on cityscape tracking shots and dull static single shots, often without reaction shots. It’s not jarring until a more complicated party scene with multiple actors who we must imagine are in the same space. For that scene, they employ a kaleidoscope filter to make things a little off-kilter anyway.
Vanderburg’s stylized noir-patter remains a pleasure, but I was not always quite following the story. Yet, what underlies Vanderburg’s scenario remains potent. The stage show was meant to reflect the many ways in which the world is draining people with omnipresent violence, racist aggressions and microaggressions, ignorance of climate change, and an overabundance of Trump toxicity. None of that has gone away, but the exhaustion she depicts hits even harder now.
The film remains available on the Exponential Festival YouTube channel.