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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Surprise of the Season – Anime Review: KILL la KILL

Title: KILL la KILL
Format: TV anime
Genre: sci-fi, parody, comedy, ecchi, action
Series Creator:  Hiroyuki Imaishi
Series Director:  Hiroyuki Imaishi
Studio: Trigger
Series length: 24 episodes
Original Airing dates: 3/10/2013-27/3/2014
Reviewed format: download with subs
Killlakillpromo

Synopsis:

“Set at Honnouji Academy a fictional high school in Tokyo Bay set in Japan that is dominated by its fearsome student council, led by Satsuki Kiryuin. The council members wear special uniforms called Goku Uniforms that grant them superhuman abilities, which they use to oppress the rest of the school’s students and staff. Ryuko Matoi, a student wielding half of a scissor-shaped longsword, transfers to Honnouji Academy in search of the owner of the other half of the scissor blade, the person who killed her father, Isshin Matoi. Defeated by the council after interrogating Satsuki over the killer’s identity and whereabouts, Ryuko comes across a sentient sailor uniform she names Senketsu, who puts himself on Ryuko. Using Senketsu’s special abilities, Ryuko stands up against Satsuki and her henchmen, the Elite Four, to liberate Honnouji Academy from their iron grip and solve the mystery of her father’s murder. She befriends fellow student Mako Mankanshoku and lives with her family in the slums surrounding the academy.”

WARNING: A fair few spoilers to come!

To say that KILL la KILL was the surprise anime of the last two season is a massive understate.

Despite all of its flaws (which shall be addressed later) was an incredible stand out amongst many very good (& some very mediocre & beyond terrible) anime series from the past 24+ weeks. It was constantly engaging, witty, silly & appropriately dark when needed. Like Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann before it, KILL la KILL parodied established genres & tropes exceptionally well but, unfortunately, does overstep the boundaries a bit -especially in regards to sexual tropes & imagery.

The plot is genitals out batshit insanity to the point that if you tried to describe it to someone who has no idea about anime, they’d walk away vowing never to watch any Japanese media.

The basis of it is: typical angry heroine Matoi Ryuko goes to the strange Honnouji Accademy to find who murdered her father, only to be confronted by the extreme weirdness of the students wearing Goku Uniforms, which grants them super human abilities. The academy is ruled over by the tyrannical Kiryuin Satsuki & her Four Devas (also translated at the Elite Four), who wish to use it as a staging ground to take over other school in Japan. After attempting to challenge Satsuki & being defeated, Ryuko returns to her ruined home & discovers the sentient God Robe Senketsu, who grants who super powers in exchange for drinking some of her blood. Now armed with a weapon to take on Satsuki, the Devas & the empowered students of Honnouji, Ryuko & her new best friend Mako seek to find the truth behind her father’s death as well as stomp as many heads in as she can. Only to find herself beaten & manipulated at every point along her journey.

That’s the start of it but it goes well twisted beyond that point.

The real & utter strength of this series is the fact that no matter how batshit insane the plot gets, it still keeps you utterly hooked through its humour, plot twists &, especially, its characters.
matoi-kill-la-kill
Ryuko is your typical action hero, angry at the world so she lashes out before thinking, but she goes through a lot of character development during her arc -coming to terms with who & what she is. Similarly, Satsuki begins like your typical arch-villain, found of posing & pronouncing but she has a lot of depth to both her character & motivation to het background. Because of how my brain works, I guessed one of the major plot twists very early but it still didn’t ruin any of the reveal. One reason for that is because even if the protangonist & antagonist do seem very stock, they are surrounded by crazy & interesting side characters.

Mako is Ryuko’s self appointed best friend (& possible love interest) who is always at her side. She is also utterly (intelligence wise) stupid & prone to spouting bizarre inspirational monologues along with equally bizarre physical gestures. Yet her utter stupidity, randomness & inability to be shaken by anything that she sees is what makes her so awesome to watch. She is the ultimate wild card whenever Ryoku finds herself on the ropes or despairing over another lose to Satsuki’s forces & plans. Reality has hold on Mako & that means that she can do almost anything to help support Ryuko in her battles.

The Four Devas also have a huge amount of depth to them, going beyond mere minion status to full characters.
KILL.la.KILL.full.1607773
They are each given time on screen to develop, especially Gamagoori Ira (Disciplinary Committee), by showing how they first came to serve under Satsuki (whom they all refer to as Satsuki-sama). They also seriously beat Ryuko over the course of the 1st half of the series, which subverts so much of the normalcy of anime narrative. They are never shown as true villains & stay true to their own personal goals whilst still loyally serving Satsuki. There are no usurpers in the wings or overly caricatured characters but there is a hell of a lot of parody on many conventions of character creations as well as very clever subversions of trope.

And then in the 2nd half of the series (eps 13-24) it truly goes insane as it is revealed that the true enemy of all humanity are living clothing called Life Fibres & that Senketsu was created for Ryuko (along with her special Life Fibre severing scissors) so she could successfully battle them. Also that the organisation known as Nudist Beach (they are all actually naked) was created by Ryuko’s father in order to help destroy the Life Fibres & save the world.

At that point, all attempts at logic & sanity are shattered -especially with the introduction of Satsuki’s mother, Ragyo, and her twisted pixie-like assistant, Nui. Who are the ones behind the Life Fibres & part of the reason that Ryuko is able to bond with Senketsu.

Unfortunately it is that bonding it is that bonding process that draws my ire & almost stopped me watching early on.

That is because the transformation is so hyper sexualised  (especially the Box Shot [won’t explain, watch the vid in the link]). The costume is intentionally revealing & plays into Ryoku’s character development but I still felt as though it was a huge step backwards for what could’ve been something more interesting &/or inventive. I know the how transformation is a parody of the old Magical Girl transformation but it still irks me for some reason.

At some point, pretty much every character is sexualised in some way (especially some of the men) but it still feels cheap. At least they actually play it straight for the most part & when they draw attention to it, they do it for the sake of parody & comedy (such as Mikisugi’s magic glowing nipples).

Everything in this series is turned up to the proverbial 11 (again, if you don’t get the reference you are way to young or a bit thick), especially the sexualisation of the body & the violence (blood flies everywhere in weird ways), which is both a positive & negative. Positive: adds to the parody levels well. Negative: a lot of people are too mentally ill-equipped to know that it’s a parody.

Yet despite all this excess & hyper-ness (or because of it) I utter adore this series. It has its fault but they can be overlooked because of all the great things that is does well.

Also a quick mention of the soundtrack. That is another thing that works really well. Especially the character leit motifs (the songs that play when characters appear or do an action). Many of the people who worked on the music also worked on Attack On Titan’s OST but they sound poles apart. My favourite track from the series is the transformation theme Until My Body Is Dry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNo0EhDhpBE

Basically, when it boils down to it, the extreme originality & oddness of KILL la KILL is the main reason that you watch it. It does to the Action & Magical Girl genres what Gurren Lagann did to the mecha genre (only better in my view).

It’s fun, it’s stupid, it’s (literally) genitals out insanity & you’ll kick yourself for not enjoying it.