By SHAWN MACOMBER
Starring Ben O’Toole, Monica Bellucci and Tess Haubrich
Directed by Kiah Roache-Turner
Written by Kiah Roache-Turner and Tristan Roache-Turner
Following up 2014’s gleefully deranged, hyperstylized postapocalyptic undead adventure WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD was never going to be an easy task. Yet with the crackling new supernatural romp NEKROTRONIC, the brothers Roache-Turner—writer/director Kiah and writer/producer Tristan—and their merry band of Aussie cinematic marauders pull an impish, infernal little rabbit out of their collective hat, delivering a wildly entertaining madcap horror/comedy. Out today in select theaters and on VOD, it somehow manages to build a lithe ’n’ limber Frankenstein’s monster out of parts that call to mind DRAG ME TO HELL, GHOSTBUSTERS, ALIENS, a total HARRY POTTER perversion, TRON and more.
Here’s the setup: Howard (Ben O’Toole) is having a shitty day at work. Like, literally. He’s what might euphemistically be dubbed a sewage removal specialist, and the conduit connecting his tanker truck to his quarry just broke, drenching him in Number Two to the tenth power while his maddeningly chill slacker partner Rangi (Epine Bob Savea) twiddles on his cell phone. In other words, to describe Howard’s station in life as modest would paradoxically seem immodest. He aspires to the bottom rung of society.
Or so he believes.
Things take an improbable turn when Rangi downloads an app that is the rough equivalent of Pokemon Go for ghost hunting. Not only do they soon get more than they bargained for in the ghoul department, but viewed through the app, Howard has a strange glow, and in the ensuing hand-to-specter combat, he fares strangely well. (Considerably better, indeed, than Rangi, who—mild SPOILER ALERT—soon dies, only to return as a wacky undead sidekick à la Griffin Dunne in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.)
Could it be that Howard’s life is not so ordinary after all? The answer soon comes from a necromancer named Luther (THE LORD OF THE RINGS’ David Wenham) and his daughters Torquel (Tess Haubrich) and Molly (Caroline Ford), who not only deliver the news that he’s a unwitting high-level demon hunter (“You’re one of the last surviving members of the most powerful bloodline our kind has ever known”) but also would very much like to recruit him into the battle against the soul-swallowing demoness Finnigan (Monica Bellucci from BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF and IRREVERSIBLE). As it happens, he’s the sole inheritor of the power to stop her smartphone-enabled, capital “H” Hellraising.
At first, it appears as if Howard might crack under the pressure, as evidenced by this epic soliloquy/freakout early on in his necromancing career:
“I just found out I’m part of some weird little anti-Satanic superhero club! And that my mother killed my father and a whole lot of other people and ate their fucking souls! And because of that, I’ve spent my entire life growing up in shitty foster homes thinking I was Oliver Twist, but apparently I’m Merlin the fuckin’ Magician! Demons are trying to kill me, through phones, with axes. Somebody tried to suck my soul directly through my face today and now you’re asking me to help you steal a thing off a wall that is guarded by arguably the scariest fucking thing I have ever seen in my entire life.”
Honestly, that summation either sells the rest of the film for you or it doesn’t.
If it does, boy, are you in for a treat, ’cause once the premise is locked down, the remaining two-thirds of NEKROTRONIC throw everything and the viscera-filled kitchen sink at you. It’s playful, absurdist and completely over the top, maintaining the action-horror-humor-rinse-repeat ethos of WYRMWOOD even as it brings new nuances and production prowess to the table. (It probably doesn’t hurt in this respect that both cinematographer Tim Nagle and composer Michael Lira returned for this film—the vibe is definitely of a team with enough hard-won trust to take wild chances.) A lot of the stuff that’s supposed to establish a nexus between tech and demonic power is more than a bit illogical, but that’s part of the fun. This isn’t a physics lecture—it’s an epic piss-take. It hurtles forward, taking its foot off the accelerator only to drop a wisecrack here or there, and though you feel the overheating engine and smell the burning rubber, the wheels never actually come off.
NEKROTRONIC is fun and enlivening enough that it might leave you wishing there actually was a soul-sucking demon or three, just so you could have a chance at taking a break from your own shitty monotony to become an unlikely hero.