Every once in a while, we’re gifted with a film that makes a mockery of genre classifications, and at this year’s South by Southwest film festival, that movie was Turbo Kid. There’s no realistic way to classify the creative genius on display throughout said wonderpiece, but hell, I’ll give it a try anyway!
This dreamlike fantasy mixes a sweet, coming-of-age love story with the energy of a psychedelic music video and the practical goriness of the most splatterific 80s horror movie you can reference. It’s whimsical, gleefully brutal, and utterly breathtaking. It’s the type of movie that shouldn’t make you so damn happy, but it’s impossible not to be sucked in by the magnificent design and screen-popping colors on display. Turbo Kid is an independent miracle that exists outside of a mainstream system unwilling to take such artistic risks, but without individuals who are driven by sheer ambition and grandiose visions (The FP and other likeminded films), think of how boring movies would be.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world where water has become deathly scarce, a man named Zeus (Michael Ironside) rules over a desolate territory that produces its own supply of H2O. Our hero (Munro Chambers) knows not to engage with such a place, and he spends most of his time scavenging around safer areas to avoid more unsavory characters. But what’s a movie without a conflict? “The Kid” finds himself tangling with Zeus’ thugs after a female companion he meets named Apple (Laurence Leboeuf) is taken hostage, and after breaking away from their violent grasp, a chase ensues. Can “The Kid” save Apple by channeling his inner hero, like the ones he reads about in comic books? With the help of a destructive space-blaster he finds, it just might be possible. Forget Turbo Man, here comes Turbo Kid!
The universe built by filmmakers François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell puts bigger-budget movies to shame, especially when you realize it’s being done with a fraction of the price tag that studio films are granted. A smattering of primary colors are thrown onto the screen like a vibrant Jackson Pollack piece, bringing life to more industrial, desolate landscapes that show little inhabitance.
BMX bikes are established as the primary mode of travel, because the scarcity of burnable fuels makes manpower the most readily-available source of energy. While this sounds mundane, Simard and company once again showcase how hunks of metal can be transformed into flashy scenery enhancements when given a proper coat of paint. Color-coded bike/helmet combinations turn metallic transportation devices into radiant futuristic stallions that establish a personal complexity. Turbo Kid attempts to create Hell on Earth, but dammit if it still doesn’t look like a cinema lover’s dream.
In any direction you look during this arena-rockin’ death party, you’ll notice the film’s many influences seeping their way into every shot. From the heavily detailed costumes that appear to be from brightly illustrated comic books, to 8-bit video game nods like Link’s health bar hearts, Turbo Kid becomes an overloaded melting pot of pop-culture geeking in the best of ways. Think Mega Man meets Mad Max (Mega Mad Max?), with a lot more blood, decapitations, and halved bodies than expected.
Turbo Kid is sinfully sweet in the most synth-pop, bubblegum of ways, but don’t let Apple’s innocence fool you. This trio of Canadian directors deliver gullet-stuffing amounts of hilarious gore that desecrates the human form in ways never thought possible. The effects and props team get a billion thumbs way up for creating intestine-ripping torture devices out of simple bicycles, turning heads into human corkscrews, and reducing bodies to messy piles of gooey biological waste. Something this gory shouldn’t make people smile so wide, yet Turbo Kid can’t help it!
A big part of why you’ll fall in love with this heartfelt story of young romance is because of Laurence Leboeuf’s crush-worthy turn as Apple, a Rainbow Brite reincarnation who dons a seafoam jumpsuit, rainbow-colored socks, and pretty pink hearts as detailing. Her energetic enthusiasm brings a loveable charm to Apple, especially when she’s proudly waving around her newly-fastened weapon screaming “THIS IS MY GNOMESTICK!” (it’s a garden gnome taped to a baseball bat). She’s devoted, adorable, AND she references the Evil Dead franchise?! Beating heart, please be still. I think I’m in love.
The rest of the characters prove to be more than their outer-armor as well, from Michael Ironside’s one-eyed-Titan Zeus, to Munro Chambers’ red-suited Turbo Kid. Most of the acting finds itself in competition with the tubular soundtrack that blasts plenty of montage-worthy pep pieces and 80s synth-rock glory, but the actors consistently stay grounded in a dystopian mindset where danger lurks around every rubble heap. Even Skeletron (Edwin Wright), a voiceless bruiser who wears a menacing iron mask, finds personality through a piercing stare from behind his protective facade. Ironside’s domineering appearance translates into tyrannical speeches about man’s preservation in such a time of dehydration, but Chambers plays a wide-eyed savior who counterbalances obvious evils with his own brand of amateurish, blindly ambitious heroism.
Turbo Kid is the hero we want, the hero we need, and the hero we deserve in a time of bleak, gritty action stories that all seem to be cut from the same depressing cloth. There’s Dead Rising inspired weapon modding, destructive blasters that can eviscerate anything with a single charged blast, childlike wonder, and über-mature action sequences that balance out any gushy romanticism, but it all works extremely hand-in-hand. Melted hearts and hardened warriors become kindred spirits as the film speeds on. Turbo Kid simultaneously plays to the awestruck child and more serious adult in us all, and becomes a sadistically enjoyable warzone along the way. In need of a good cinematic rescue? Look no further than Turbo Kid – an invigorating adventure that has its phasers set to WOW!
Turbo Kid is a magical can't-miss experience that's like a Saturday morning cartoon turned into an apocalyptic 80s fever-dream. A stunning visual masterpiece that redefines the phrase "low-budget filmmaking."