SXSW MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Turbo Kid’ Offers Silly, Gore-Filled Goodness

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Film: Turbo Kid
Starring: Munro Chambers
Directed by: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell

Combining elements of Mad Max, direct-to-VHS science fiction sequels, and enough tongue-in-cheek humor to keep everyone snickering throughout, Turbo Kid is an original adventure you won’t soon forget.

The year is 1997, and as you undoubtedly remember the world has been destroyed from years of war and pollution. Those who remain are scattered across what is now known as the wasteland, and they largely depend on bicycles for transportation. Resources are scarce, as are friendly faces, and everyone seems to be looking out solely for themselves.

Enter The Kid. Played wonderfully by Munro Chambers, the young man at the center of our story has spent the past several years surviving on his own. His parents did not die during what people now refer to as the apocalypse, but rather at the hands of one of the wasteland’s most ruthless villains. The Kid saw it all, too, and he’s still haunted by the sight of their slain bodies. So much so, in fact, that he sometimes wonders if he will be able to fight back if/when his own livelihood is challenged.

Everything begins to change when The Kid meets Apple, an odd girl nearly the same age as our protagonist who seems to be excited about practically everything. She’s the kind of excessively happy person that most average people find annoying after four or five minutes, but set against the desolate landscape that is the film’s cinematic universe there is something undeniably charming about her boundless joy. It’s like the one beacon of hope amidst a sea of negativity, and she helps guide The Kid on a journey of self-discovery unlike anything he’s ever experienced.

What do I mean by that? It’s a little hard to explain the many oddities and shocking moments found in Turbo Kid without spoiling the entire experience, but suffice to say the war for resources has transformed pretty much everyone into a post-apocalyptic road warrior, complete with customized suits of armor (which in reality are mostly football helmets and pads with a few bells and whistles added for flare). There are also several crazy death scenes, including one moment involving someone being asked to reveal sensitive information while their intestines are tied to the wheel of a bicycle. You can probably imagine what occurs when someone lies in a situation like that, and it’s exactly what happens on screen.

If you’re scratching your head wondering if this film makes a single lick of sense when witnessed in full you’re not alone. I had questions before going into Turbo Kid, and walking out I realized I was left with even more. I was also entertained, but not in the absolutely ridiculous, balls-to-the-wall insane way I was expected based on the film’s premise. The story is over the top, and there are a number of moments I don’t believe can be found anywhere else in cinema, but those fleeting moments of brilliance are not as frequent or memorable as one might have hoped. Filmmakers François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell could have skimped on universe building in order to deliver a tighter story, but instead they present a unique alternative reality and take their time exploring the various sights and characters found within it. Whether that was the right move or not will depend largely on what viewers hope to gain from their viewing experience, but I believe shaving off even an additional five minutes would have made the film flow far better.

Everything in Turbo Kid would either fall apart or flat-out not work without the amazing talent on display from the entire cast. Munro Chambers more than carries the film as The Kid, but he’s made even better thanks to the way he’s able to interact with female lead Laurence Leboeuf. These two young people, neither of whom have many leading credits, provide an emotional anchor for viewers to connect with and gives us a reason to care even when things become so absurd all possible connections to reality are severed. That’s not to say the crazier characters don’t do their part as well though, because they most certainly do. Michael Ironside’s turn as the villain Zeus is one he’ll no doubt be associated with for years to come. Likewise, Aaron Jeffery shines as the ultra-macho hero who soon learns he needs all the help he can get.

Turbo Kid offers heaps of original ideas piled hight atop a peculiar and engaging premise, offering a vision of another reality we will sadly never be able to know ourselves. It’s a movie that exists in a sub-genre of film entirely its own, though it borrows heavily from far more mainstream science fiction fare, and even if you watch every other major indie oddity produced this year you would be unable to find another title that comes close to matching the absurd level of creativity on display in this feature. I know for a fact there will be some who simply don’t ‘get it,’ but for everyone else Turbo Kid will play like a breath of a fresh air, even if it drags from time to time.

GRADE: B

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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