Now Streaming: TURBO KID, The Right Kind of Gory, Glorious Plastic
Munro Chambers, Laurence Lebouef, Michael Ironside, and Edwin Wright star in the bloody sci-fi cult classic, now streaming on Shudder.
Saying Turbo Kid is Mad Max on BMX-bikes may be a quick description, and not exactly misleading, but it's also selling the film a bit short. For starters it fails to show Turbo Kid's true inspirations: 1980's "young adult" films, and the cheap Italian Mad Max knock-offs which swamped video-stores after the runaway worldwide success of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.
Turbo Kid started life as a proposed segment for the first ABCs of Death film, and though it ended as a finalist, it lost to T is for Toilet. Well, lost... Turbo Kid was popular enough to get made into a full-length feature, and the transition didn't exactly harm the film, as it proceeded to pick up the Audience Award at SXSW earlier this year.
Whoa! So what's it about?
As the opening narration states in true eighties' fashion, the story takes place after the apocalypse, in a world destroyed by acid rain and robot wars. In short: it's 1997.
After his parents were murdered, one teenage kid has survived by himself in these wastelands for years. He scavenges the polluted environment on his BMX-bike, and trades whatever he finds in a nearby village for food and (more importantly) almost-clean water.
But one day while scavenging, he meets Apple: a very hyped-up girl who immediately wants to be his friend. Reluctant at first, "The Kid" slowly but surely starts to warm towards Apple. When she gets abducted by a big BMX-biker gang, led by the super-powerful and thoroughly evil Zeus, "The Kid" picks up his weapons to try and save her.
Bar the BMX-bikes, it doesn't sound particularly special yet on paper. But its creators and co-directors François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell have infused the film with a mix of homage, parody and kick-assery that is very infectious. This could so easily have become a string of lame jokes, eighties references, and the occasional "ooo look at us!" low-budget gore effect, but it isn't. In every single part of filmmaking, Turbo Kid manages to rise above its expected level of quality.
Take the actors, who play one-dimensional cardboard characters. Each of them manages to bring something special to it, be it Munro Chambers' continued naiveté during even the goriest of scenes, or Laurence Leboeuf's constantly misplaced exuberance about everything. Even Edwin Wright adds loads of neurosis to his Skeletron, a role which originally was written as "being silent and emotionless with a full-face mask on".
Intelligence also shows in the use of locations, the general cinematography, and the special effects. The very much over-the-top gore is similar to what you see in the Japanese splattergore classics of Iguchi Noboru and Nishimura Yoshihiro, and never fail to make the audience laugh. Even the three directors all die messily during their brief appearances.
I'm not quite sure what the secret ingredient is here. I can't explain why the eighties aesthetic doesn't start to grate after an hour, or why the tightrope-act between homage and parody never falls into sycophancy and ridicule, or why the story stays fresh despite its predictability, or why the gore stays palatable. Could it be the sheer love for film itself that shines through everything?
All in all, Turbo Kid may leave the smell of plastic in your nostrils, but it's the right kind of plastic, the one you associate with cool toys, cool games and even cooler backyard parties.
When I saw the film earlier this year at the Imagine Film Festival Amsterdam, it was a great crowd-pleaser, and everyone (including me) loved it.
Review originally published during the Imagine Film Festival Amsterdam in April 2015. The film is now streaming on Shudder.