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Something wicked lurks in the dark depths of the internet in Nekrotronic, a cheerfully pulpy horror comedy from Australian producer-writer-director duo Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner. The brothers earned positive critical notices with their 2014 feature debut Wyrmwood, a lo-fi splatterpunk cocktail of killer zombies and Mad Max future-shock. Their follow-up project boasts a bigger budget and more famous cast, including Monica Bellucci and David Wenham. But this bloodthirsty comic-book fantasy is let down by its infantile humor and derivative, incoherent plot.
World premiered earlier this month in Toronto’s Midnight Madness section, Nekrotronic makes its European debut at Sitges in Spain next week, and will be a surefire booking for other genre-friendly festivals. But despite channeling some of the rowdy maverick spirit of early Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi and some enjoyably lurid visual effects work, the central story simply lacks the wit or originality to make much impact beyond indulgent fanboy circles.
A long, lively animated prelude sets up the convoluted backstory about a warrior caste of human necromancers who have been fighting an invisible army of malevolent demons for centuries. The evil queen of this phantom realm (Bellucci) is a former necromancer who later defected to the dark side. Now she has figured out a high-tech way of transforming the worldwide web into a superweapon, enslaving mortal souls on a massive scale via a wildly popular new AR computer game, which looks like Pokemon Go if it was designed by Satan. Although most of humanity is unaware, the entire species faces possible extinction.
The newest unwitting foot soldiers in this apocalyptic infinity war are a pair of lowly sanitation engineers, Howie (Ben O’Toole) and Rangi (Epine Bob Savea). Unbeknownst to him, Howie has family ties to the demonic underworld, which only become clear after he is recruited by a father-daughter trio of kick-ass necromancers (David Wenham, Caroline Ford and Tess Haubrich). Despite being a dorky stoner, Howie soon proves to have Jedi-like abilities as a demon-busting action hero. Soon he is flexing his newfound skills in a sexy new world of high-powered weaponry and, inevitably, adoring female admirers. Labored slapstick and juvenile toilet humor further underscore the film’s depressingly lowbrow pandering to its adolescent male target audience.
As a technical package, Nekrotonic is a great leap forward from Wymwood. The CG effects have more professional polish, the neon-heavy production design boasts a pleasingly retro 1980s sheen and there are numerous audience-nudging homages to vintage horror classics including The Exorcist and Alien. Bellucci also gives great soul-sucking diva, though her operatic camp-vamp performance feels more tailored to a Tim Burton or Guillermo del Toro movie than to this half-baked pulp-genre mashup. As visual stylists, the Roache-Turner brothers are clearly rising talents, but as producers and directors, they need to be way tougher on themselves as lazy screenwriters.
Production companies: Hopscotch, Guerilla Films
Cast: Ben O’Toole, Monica Bellucci, Caroline Ford, Tess Haubrich, Epine Bob Savea, David Wenham
Director: Kiah Roache-Turner
Screenwriters: Kiah Roache-Turner, Tristan Roache-Turner
Producers: Tristan Roache-Turner, Andrew Mason, Troy Lum
Cinematographer: Tim Nagle
Editor: Christine Cheung
Music: Michael Lira
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Midnight Madness)
Sales: Sierra / Affinity
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