One More For The Road – Movie Critique: Wyrmwood – Road of the Dead

Wyrmwood coverTitle: Wymwood (AKA Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead)
Genre: zombie, horror, action, comedy, road movie
Director: Kiah Roache-Turner
Studio: Guerilla Films
Original Release: 12 February 2015
Running time: 98 minutes


Synopsis:

“After meteors fall over Australia, Outback mechanic Barry, his aboriginal friend Benny & their companions must battle flesh crazed zombies, non-combustible & a dwindling beer supply in order to save Barry’s sister Brooke from the clutches of a rogue army and the insane Doctor.”


Review:

When people think of Australian cinema, the first film they tend to think of, more oft than not, is Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior). It wasn’t the first Australian genre film but it certainly set the benchmark for all those that followed -more so since it was more popular than the respectable Aussie releases of the era, such as Picnic At Hanging Rock. It was Mad Max 1 & 2 (& to a lesser degree, Mad Max [3] Beyond Thunderdome) That set the template for Post-Apocalypse genre from then on, with their crazed, leather clad raiders, insane & inhuman villains, wasteland setting & off-ya-face car designs & chases. They became the stable, & then the cliche, of so many Post-Apocalyptic forms. That was until the zombie genre gained a resurgence & took the throne. Yet, what would happen if you were to blend the tropes of the Mad Maxes & (over-indulged) zombie genres? The result would be the Aussie zombie road movie Wrymwood: Road of the Dead.

What makes Wrymwood instantly different from the hundreds of other zombie films out there is it’s very Aussie sense of humour. It’s dry, laconic, sarcastic, caustic & very self aware of how stupid the scenario is but it doesn’t give any knowing winks to camera. It plays the silliness straight & the actors –whilst not entirely brilliant– take it all very seriously so you can suspend your sense of disbelief. It’s very much more like Peter Jackson’s classic take on the zombie flick Braindead than George A. Romero’s genre launching flick Night of the Living Dead. The directors kept the trick of never letting the audience getting a proper rest to digest anything. It’s not non-stop action but the plot moves at a quick pace, yet still fitting in times for reflections upon the End of the World & a few beers to pass the time.

At first the narrative is chronologically disjointed. It begins with armour glad men trying to get a truck into a mechanic’s garage whilst fending off a ravenous hoard (well, cluster) of the Undead before cutting to Benny (Leon Burchill) telling his unseen (on screen) companions about how he & his two brothers, Tony & Mulla, were out hunting when they witness a meteor shower. The story sticks with Benny for a bit, with him telling the audience-surrogates how next day, Benny’s brother Tony has turned into a zombie who just slowly followed Benny around until Benny got the courage to put him down with a good old double barrel shotgun to the head. It’s a very good way to open such a cliched story, since it neatly tells you how the zombie outbreak began & how quickly it spread without getting bogged down in needless dialogue or rapidly intercut scenes of the news & global/local panic like so many other movies tend to do. It’s a very sedate start, lulling people in before it ramps up. The narrative then jumps back in time & between two characters, Barry –builder & family man– & his sister Brooke –alternative & tattooed artist-type.

Whilst doing a zombie inspired photoshoot, Brooke’s friends are turned into zombies & she is forced to kill one of them. This shows some very creative use of camera & actions –which very typical of early Aussie genre films with lots of Dutch Angles being used to give a sense of tension & make up for a lack of technical knowledge & budget. Brooke’s chaotic fight is juxtaposed with the serenity of Barry’s domestic life, with his wife & daughter settling in for the night. When their home is invaded by zombies, Barry must do all that he can to save them. The intersection of these two plots comes together when Brooke calls Barry to warm him of what’s going on, followed by Barry & family’s hectic escape from town -mowing down zombies who leap for them in their car.

What follows does come straight out of the zombie flick playbook –with Brooke being kidnapped by evil military people & given to a mad scientist, who is simply called The Doctor (played with utter relish by Berynn Schwerdt) & Barry dealing with the zombification of his loved ones (not really a spoiler, since it’s so obvious it was going to happen)– yet how the playbook is handled is what really pushes Wyrmwood above the usual grind(house).

Is everyone ready to. . . dance?!
Is everyone ready to. . . dance?!

One way is how the characters each react to the zombie apocalypse or have circumstances pushed upon them. Barry is both grieving & stoic but shows a vile temper simmering beneath the surface that he is all too happy to unleash upon some shambling flesh munchers. That temper is echoed in Brooke, who is subjected to torturous experiments by The Doctor, which seem to have no purpose other than to make Brooke suffer & for the camera to angle down at her cleavage. Yet she remains utterly defiant, even whilst tied up. She has the ability to fight, as seen in her earlier scenes, & is smart enough to learn when to wait. Other characters try to cling to some sense of (Australian) normalcy. Mainly by doing those little rituals that keep you human & keep you sane. This includes the character Chalker always toking on a joint, Frank & his mate doing a BBQ for Barry & Benny & keeping their sense of humour about them.

One thing that I do applaud the film makers for doing, something I’ve been saying all zombie media is stupid for lacking, is putting their characters in protection.

It might be made of plastic but it gets the job done
It might be made of plastic but it gets the job done

Early on they learn they zombies get you by biting you, so they quickly figure out that the best way to survive is to go all Ned Kelly & armour up. It doesn’t make them invincible or destroy the tension but it helps bridge the credibility gap that so many zombie things fail to grasp (looking at you The Walking Dead).

The other little clever twist that the directors add in is that formerly combustible fuels –such as gasoline & methylated spirits– no longer combust, so they can’t use their cars. What our heroes do discover is that the zombies produce a gas that can be turned into fuel, giving them a zombie powered road machine. So the zombies become both predator & prey for Barry & his mates. Since they need to escape the zombies but also need them to get away.

There are some other little nice genre twists but going into them would spoil the film somewhat.

Aside from the subversions of genre establishment, the other thing that Wyrmwood really has going for it is the very very Aussie sense of humour. There is lots of swearing –“fuck” & all its derivations are pretty much used as punctuation & sentence joiners– but it feels natural as an aspect of the Aussie vernacular (for the part). It plays on some lost tropes of Aussie humour, such as irony & understatement. Even though it does have a very Aussie flavour, I don’t think it would be alienating to international (at least English speaking) audiences.

The special effects & design also stand out. With a lot of time seemingly spent to get the zombie makeup just right & the gore everywhere. The film does overindulge in the old claret but it fits with the nature of genre films –where more blood than a body can hold has to spray out everywhere. It’s beyond cheesy but it’s done with love -mixing practical old fashion blood effects with CGI to fit bullet wounds. The action is also very well shot, with a clever & low grade fight scene at the end being a stand out. It can’t really compare with something out of Hong Kong or Hollywood but the fight choreography shows a love of genre & a working knowledge of how a scene should be shot without losing any sense of character, place or perspective (something which so many Hollywood fail to do these days).

Another note to add is that the film was made on a very limited budget ($160,000) with backing from  foreign investors -with the cast & crew saying that they won’t take any payment until the film sees a profit. So this is one film that I implore people NOT TO PIRATE! It’s rare to see a good Aussie genre film these days & it had a very limited cinematic release in Australia, so if we want to see the promised sequel we need to support it as much as we can.

In the end, if you are feeling jaded by the whole over saturated zombie genre but still can’t get away from it, Wyrmwood is the film for you. It may not be entirely original but it does so much that is new & interesting that it does breath new life into an (un)dying genre. & it’s good to resurrect a local industry once powerful, now near death.

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