The zombie film takes an Australian turn, complete with all the expected frenetic elements and a few surprises.
Zombies; the apocalypse: film fans have seen that before. Killers running around in remote locations: they’ve seen that, too. Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead brings both to the screen, once more and in tandem. With ample carnage and just as much energy, the locally-made, low-budget effort lets two typical horror film scenarios loose on an Australian outback setting.
Mechanic Barry (Jay Gallagher, TV’s All Saints) and his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey, Wrath) sit at the centre of a strange situation – or stand and try to flee, more accurately. The former is a husband to Annie (feature debutant Catherine Terracini) and a father to young Meganne (Meganne West, Reed Doctors); however an average family evening turns into a bloodbath, sending him running. The latter, mid-photo shoot with friends, warns Barry that trouble is brewing. Alas, she is kidnapped by The Captain (Luke McKenzie, Wentworth) and The Doc (Berynn Schwerdt, Backyard Ashes), men with sinister plans seemingly aligned with the military.
Of course, the reason for the mayhem is an outbreak of ravenous zombies on a murderous rampage. In their first feature after shorts War Games and Roadrunner, the filmmaking Roache-Turner brothers – writer/director/editor Kiah and writer/producer Tristan – are clearly fond of the wealth of similarly-themed material that precedes their addition to the genre, from the amusing to the gory, and the tried-and-tested to the tired. They task Barry with a comic sidekick in the form of fellow survivor Benny (Leon Burchill, Stone Bros.), the on-screen duo then swiftly slaughtering their way through the hordes as they attempt to rescue Brooke. As one sibling is arguing with anyone who stands in his way, including over-zealous enforcement officers dispensing their own brand of justice, the other is contending with a mad scientist-type.
With an unruly dystopian setting steeped in sparse bushland and teeming with unfriendly undead, echoes of the been-there, done-that variety resound through Wyrmwood’s plot – sometimes humorously so, but often pushing its ideas into too-familiar territory. To counter the considerable shadows of well-worn concepts, a few new ideas are also sprinkled through the narrative, and although they don’t always work, each is a refreshing inclusion. Mysticism is leaned upon too heavily, with one resulting twist smacking of convenience. An unexpected use for the usual shuffling foes proves the opposite, in the script’s most ingenious turn.
Acting isn’t the main appeal of zombie offerings in general and the same is true in Wyrmwood, its frenetic, deftly edited chase and fight scenes commandeering the bulk of attention. Burchill masters the lurching tone of horror and comedy that the feature itself doesn’t always perfect in its splice of grittiness and silliness, while Gallagher and Bradey assume action mode, their efforts as workmanlike as the movie’s overall execution. That may sound like multiple film’s worth of performances, and that is how it seems in the feature, a feeling that also infiltrates the story and style. With an unrelenting pace that belies its brief running time, Wyrmwood packs the parts and passion of the entire genre into one package, brimming with obvious affection but wavering when it comes to hitting its marks.
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead
Director: Kiah Roache-Turner
Australia, 2014, 98 mins
Premiere screenings – 6 February at Moonlight Cinemas
Special event screenings – 13 February at selected cinemas