There’s something special about Ozploitation films. It’s a combination of unadulterated schlock, low-brow humor, and pure exhilaration that comes together in anarchic glee. I don’t want to paint an entire continent’s low-budget film output with the same brush, but for fuck’s sake, the best horror/sci-fi coming out of Australia just hits all of my sweet spots (see: Red Christmas, From Parts Unknown: Fight Like a Girl, Murderdrome, and Wolf Creek, just to name a few).
One of my absolute favorite Ozploitation films of the past decade was Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, directed by Kiah Roache-Turner and co-written with his brother Tristan Roache-Turner. Hitting in 2014, Wyrmwood was a labor of love that took years to complete and was worth every hardship the cast and crew endured. If there was any justice in the world, studios would be lining up to throw money at the brothers to make sure that their particular brand of gonzo genre films were being cranked out on a regular basis.
Instead, we’ve gotten a few sneak peeks of potential projects (including a Wyrmwood TV series that has me panting every time I watch the teaser) but have had to wait five years for their next feature film, Nekrotronic, a neon mash-up of The Frighteners, Ghostbusters, and The Matrix with a healthy dose of swearing, splatter, obscenity, and the incomparable Monica Bellucci. Five years is actually a bit of a stretch as the film debuted at TIFF last year, but it’s finally on the way to theaters and VOD as of this Friday, August 9 and DVD September 10.
The broad strokes story is straightforward enough, lacking the freewheeling world-building of Wyrmwood, but the devil is in the details (no pun intended). Ben O’Toole plays Howie, a sanitation engineer raised in foster homes, who discovers that he has a mysterious past that’s coming back to haunt him – and the rest of the world. When his best bud Rangi (Epine Bob Savea) accidentally awakens Howie’s latent Demon Hunter powers, thanks to a Pokemon Go-style ghost hunting game that is sweeping the nation. He is swiftly recruited by the last surviving Necromancers, Luther (David Wenham) and his daughters Molly (Caroline Ford) and Torquel (Tess Haubrich). The rest of the Necromancers in the country have vanished in a sudden wave as demon-queen/corporate head Finnegan (Monica Bellucci) uses the ghost-hunting phone game to harvest souls and possess players at the flip of a switch.
The story beats are familiar, but Nekrotronic is all about the creative vision and building a story engine that can support easy expansion into sequels or explorations through other media.
The biggest names on the marquee, Wenham and Bellucci, both bring a ton of enthusiasm and schlocky cool to the forefront, whole-heartedly embracing the inherent fun in the film’s concept. O’Toole’s charismatic chemistry with Ford and Haubrich is pitch perfect as the last generation of demon hunters and Savea serves as exceptionally timed comic relief.
Once the action starts, it never lets up and the story effortlessly shifts into a superhero vibe I immediately wanted to see more of. Even if the story were lacking and the performances weren’t up to snuff, Nekrotronic would still be worth seeing just for the set design and visual effects. I don’t know what the budget was, but Roache-Turner squeezes every last ounce of value and makes sure it ends up on the screen. The tech is all clunky and chunky with the occasional black leather flare and the gore effects are simple, effective, and extremely splattery. The CG is put to fantastic use, never overwhelming or seeming like a cheap parody film from The Asylum.
This is, quite simply, a fantastic looking film and a helluva good time from start to finish. Like Wyrmwood before it, Nekrotronic has a distinctive visual style that leans heavily into practical, hand-made weaponry and set-pieces, while the script is not embarrassed to make the odd shit or fart joke while barreling toward an impending demonic apocalypse. This is a film that doesn’t give a shit about mainstream critics and is made for those fans who love low-brow humor, cool action, badass heroes, and scenery-chewing villains all while looking like no other movie out there. Could the script be more adventurous plot-wise? Sure. But if you’re a critic looking at this piece as a whole and you slam it based on that, your head is up your own ass.
Any day we get a new film from the Roache-Turner boys, feature length or short, is a day for celebration.