TIFF 2018 Review: NEKROTRONIC Sucks Souls

Pokemon Go-stbusters.

Some filmmakers want to tell personal stories, illuminate issues, provoke discussion, or move people.

The Roache-Turner brothers are not such filmmakers.

The Australian pair's scrappy, low-budget debut Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead was packed with apocalyptic production design, crazy costumes, and homemade gadgetry, lending their zombie film a strong visual edge. And now, their much higher-budget followup Nekrotronic takes that obsession even further.

Nekrotronic is very much a movie that's all about its genre trappings and not really about much else. Its story, following a sewage engineer who gets recruited into an order of necro-warriors engaged in a centuries-old battle against technologically advanced demons that use cellphones to steal people’s souls, is complete nonsense, borne of a dozen unconnected ideas and a desire to put cool shit onscreen.

To be fair, that cool shit is well-executed, if a little uninspired. Like a Ghostbusters fan film made by the CW's superhero production team, it's full of high-tech gadgets, super-suits, weapons, and sets, all blinking lights and chunky switches and shiny materials. Clearly, the majority of the budget went towards making Nekrotronic look as flashy and expensive as possible, and in that respect, the movie wholeheartedly succeeds. Despite boss-fight demon makeup that was clearly too unwieldy for the performer inside to do anything much, everything in the film looks and sounds terrific.

The cast, at least, give Nekrotronic their all, managing to deliver spirited and intense performances despite a near-total lack of character development on the script side. Ben O’Toole gives a decent comic Everyman turn, while costars Caroline Ford and Tess Haubrich palpably sell their demon-police characters’ world-weary badassery. Sadly, fourth fiddle Epine Bob Savea struggles in a comic-relief ghost role - a role with zero importance to the story that calls for him to literally pop into frame to provide a Kiwi-tinged quip at regular intervals. And as the principal demon villain, the great Monica Bellucci is horribly miscast (playing a character named Finnegan, who's also the mother of the Australian protagonist), flails for purchase in a two-dimensional role that appears to have occupied all of two days on the shooting schedule.

The fact that Bellucci's character is ostensibly the protagonist's mother is emblematic of the movie's complete disregard for anything but the most superficial characterisation or drama. You'd think that the goodie and baddie being mother and son would impact the story, at least a little bit, but you'd be wrong. Like everything else in the film, it's a piece of exposition that's repeated ad nauseam yet means nothing. Everyone in this movie talks constantly about the plot and never about the story, resulting in a movie that is, paradoxically, both overexplained and confusing. The whole movie operates at a ceaseless roar, with the score and effects constantly cranked, and as a result there’s no sense of dynamics or pacing. For a movie with plasma rifles, killer wraiths, and a 3D printer that prints demon souls, Nekrotronic is surprisingly dull.

Nekrotronic is a classic example of filmmakers going hog-wild with a budget that allows them to indulge their worst impulses. So much effort (and talent!) has been put into the film's flashy style that the basic building blocks of substance disappear into its shiny neon haze. With its story, tone, and jokes cobbled together from 1980s cultural influences and instantly-dated internet fads, there’s little to grab hold of here. More than anything, it feels like a bad video game adaptation - by virtue of also feeling like a bad video game.

For lovers of “cool shit” with rock-bottom standards for storytelling, Nekrotronic is a near-perfect movie, with silly-fun fictional technology and a relentless shouty, action-packed pace. For everyone else, it’s such a vacuum of substance that it’ll suck out your soul.