Sundance 2015: ‘Turbo Kid’ is a blast from the gory and campy past

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Turbo Kid
Written and Directed by Yoann-Karl Whissell, Anouk Whissell and François Simard
Canada/New Zealand, 2014

Turbo Kid is as if your favorite Saturday morning cartoon from the 80s got the most fucked up live action adaptation, and yes, that’s a compliment. Based off the short they did for The ABCs of Death, the film from Yoann-Karl Whissell, Anouk Whissell and François Simard takes place in an apocalyptic wasteland in 1997 where a young kid (Munro Chambers) becomes friends with a girl named Apple (Laurence Lebeouf). When Apple is captured by the evil overlord Zeus (Michael Ironside), the kid finds a superhero suit that gives him the powers to free Apple and save the wasteland.

The filmmakers wear their influences on their sleeve and numerous aspects, from the setting to costuming, call back to the Mad Max series. Plenty of the film harkens back to the stories we would create when we were kids. It’s hard to merge a gratuitous gore-fest like this with childhood flights of the imagination, but the trio pull it off.

The film has a terrific sense of humor, and perfect timing. There is one character named Frederic (Aaron Jeffery), who is the biggest badass in the land and carries himself like Mad Max crossed with Indiana Jones. Every character in this film rides a bicycle to get around, and for some reason, the repeated sight of someone as cool and threatening as Frederic riding around on a bicycle never stops being hilarious. There are ingenious gags involving how creative the filmmakers get with their outlandish gore. One gag finds a henchman who keeps getting halves of other people’s bodies lopped on top of himself. The gore gags never feel so far gone in their gratuity that they lose their humor and charm.

It’s intriguing to see Jason Eisener, who had his film Hobo With a Shotgun play at Sundance a few years ago, listed as an executive producer. This film has the same retro feel and comical over-the-top gore that his had, but it succeeds where Hobo With a Shotgun failed. Much of the gratuity in Hobo With a Shotgun eventually wore out its welcome, losing its charm and comedy pretty quick. Turbo Kid fills that gap by having plenty of genuine heart spread throughout the film.  I guess it’s nice to see Jason Eisener help others succeed where he failed.

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A lot of the heart comes from how much the filmmakers genuinely invest in these characters. The kid is living out a fantasy every one of us would play out during recess in elementary school. Apple is kind of the heart and soul of the film, Laurence Labeouf initially is off-putting with her enthusiasm, but warms the audience up to Apple just as she does with the kid. Michael Ironside enjoyably hams it up as Zeus, and seeing him in a role like this brings back great memories of the genre films he performed in several decades ago. One of the biggest gems of the film lies in its score by the group Le Matos. It draws on retro-sounding synthesizers to ground the film in its heightened and over-the-top throwback of an aesthetic. The score hits all the right notes along the way in ways both comedic and reminiscent. The whole way through the film, the trio of filmmakers revel in camp in nearly every aspect of the filmmaking. What one doesn’t expect is for this film to have as much of a genuine beating heart as it does. By the end of the film, you cherish and mourn these characters, and are willing to follow Turbo Kid on whatever adventure he may go on next.




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