"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead

How many times will I have to write a variation of this: “Yeah, I know, I didn’t think I wanted any new zombie movies either, but here’s another one I liked”? No one knows. WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD (2014) feels a little bit more like a normal zombie movie than THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS or TRAIN TO BUSAN did, but it has an energy that I really like. It’s Australian and proud of it, oi oi oi, by which I mean that when a quote on the cover calls it “MAD MAX meets DAWN OF THE DEAD” it’s not that far off.

It starts right around the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, the morning after a freaky meteor shower, when most but not all people have gone ghoul. It centers on a small group of survivors, flashing back to show how it started for each of them. The lead, Barry (Jay Gallagher), kept reminding me of Scott Adkins, and though not a martial artist his character is a fighter, as in he gets in fights. In fact, early on, when a zombie is blocking the road and Barry’s companion (Yure Covich, FEED) is saying he “just can’t get used to” them existing, Barry says “Fuck it, I’m gonna fight ‘im,” gets out of the car and starts punching the thing.

He ends up teaming with a few other survivors, including the endearingly goofy Benny (Leon Burchill, “Didjeridoo Busker,” THE DIPLOMAT) and older, gruffer Frank (Keith Agius, “Special Agent Team Leader,” MR. NICE GUY). Things are rough but it’s good that there are still opportunities for some dudes to sit around in garages drinking together and maybe working on some engines or something.

I gotta say, I’m surprised at the level of armor they’re able to put together just from stuff that must’ve been in the garage. I guess everybody’s a hockey goalie down under. Or maybe you gotta wear that shit in case a kangaroo punches you?

Oh, by the way, there’s a pretty badass boomerang scene in this. So it’s properly Australian. Sorry about the kangaroo reference – I know that was corny. I just think it’s fuckin cool that you guys have a native animal species known for 1) built-in storage and 2) fisticuffs. So I bring it up out of sincere admiration.

Barry is trying to get to his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey, THE OSIRUS CHILD), a tough girl artist. Ironically her first zombie was painted up in Day of the Dead skeleton makeup for a photo shoot in her garage studio. Brooke immediately demonstrates her agility by climbing nimbly into the rafters, which we can infer she may have gotten good at while spray painting murals on the ceiling.

As tenacious as she is, she still gets captured by soldiers and ends up shackled to a wall with some zombies in a small trailer while a mad scientist in a bio suit (Berynn Schwerdt, AFTER ARMAGEDDON) pokes at them and sometimes turns on disco music and dances around. Eventually she realizes their experiments or the meteors or something have given her an unusual power that she can use for a slow, complex escape plan.

The other, weirder twist is that they figure out the reason all the cars stopped working is that in this new world all the flammable gases somehow stopped being combustible. But then they also figure out that the green, fart-smelling breath of the zombies is. So they build a zombie-powered engine for their armored, roll-barred beast and hit the road. There is chasing and shooting and not just against zombies. (The soldiers have electric engines.)

The only small problem I had with WYRMWOOD is that the varied tones didn’t totally gel for me. I mean yes, they have zombies tied up in the back of their truck to breathe into their engines, this is true. But most of the time I swear to you it’s grounded and human. I do think there’s some humor that could be compared to SHAUN OF THE DEAD (and maybe even an homage with a cricket bat used to fight zombies) but the emotional moments feel much more real than that, and I prefer that. Each of these characters suffers immense tragedy, many of them forced to kill their loved ones, others having already been through the wringer before the dead walked the earth, and all of this is very effective. When Barry’s wife Annie (Catherine Terracini, “Pathologist,” Bite Club) realizes she’s turning and steels herself to hug him and tell him she loves him in her last few moments as a human it’s truly heartbreaking. But then it turns on a dime into hyperactive Sam Raimi homage mode with that EVIL DEAD 2 type suiting-up sequence and cameras zooming around and other kinda cartoonish touches like drop kicks and the doctor having a bunch of extra magnifying glasses attached to his goggles like he’s trying to be in a Jean-Pierre Jeunet movie. And I like that stuff too, it’s just kind of a rough fit with the drama, but that could just be me. And even for me it’s weird but it works.

Man, this is one of the bleakest zombie scenarios though because, although they never complain about it, we are given enough information to know that it must constantly smell like farts.

The movie is written by the Roache-Turner brothers, Kiah and Tristan, directed by Kiah. They also have a recent sci-fi horror thing called NEKROTRONIC which Variety called “A little bit TRON meets BLADE” in a mostly negative review. It kind of ends up being an origin story, so I’m happy to read that the characters are expected to return in a 10-episode mini-series called Wyrmwood: Chronicles of the Dead. I hope they get really competitive in the building of zombie-powered vehicles.

This entry was posted on Monday, October 15th, 2018 at 11:41 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

12 Responses to “Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead”

  1. God I saw this opening weekend at the cinema in Aus and it was one of the best movie going experiences I’ve ever had.

  2. On the note of kangaroos, my wife and I were visiting a zoo once, looking at the (surprisingly muscular!) kangaroos just lounging around in the sun when a little old lady cane walking up slowly behind us. Assuming she wanted to look at the animals on display, we apologized for being in the way and moved to the side. The little old lady then said, in the most Australian accent you’ve ever heard, “Aw, don’t bother! I spend all day chasin’ ‘em out away from the house back home!”, then turned to the pen and yelled “HULLO, JOEY, YA RUDE BASTARD!” and walked off cackling to herself.

    That little old lady is what I think of whenever kangaroos come up now.

  3. I like this one. It’s uneven as heck, but just relentlessly entertaining.

  4. IIRC, this one was shot over the course of four years by amateurs just shooting on weekends, and cost under $2,000,000. It’s kinda a mess of different ideas and styles and shit (as you might expect from a production that ran so long), but it’s just so damned eager to please and so good at packing whammy in there that it wins you over. It’s exactly the kind of scrappy indie filmmaking I gotta get behind. Their whole budget probably wouldn’t cover the catering bill for SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, but it’s twice as eventful and entertaining.

    When I first saw this in 2015, I did a little back-of-the-napkin math about the ubiquity of Zombie movies:
    “Wikipedia lists 85 separate zombie films since the October 31 2010 release of THEY WALK, or approximately 1.5 per month, every month, since 2010. And just a cursory glance at that wikipedia list reveals it has major omissions; for example, BURYING THE EX, EXIT HUMANITY, and VHS 2 don’t appear on it, so that number is unquestionably low, and possibly substantially so. Even with a truncated list, to put that into perspective: I could watch nothing but zombie films, at least two a day, every day, this whole October season, and still not even get through the ones produced in the past 5 years.”

    (here’s the whole thing, for the curious:

    Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead

    Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014) Dir. Kiah Roache-Turner Written by Kiah Roache-Turner, Tristan Roache-Turner Starring Jay Galla...

    )

  5. Yeah here’s a Guardian article confirming it was, in fact, shot over four years only on weekends. Although it seems like at that point they got enough money to finish it properly.

    from the article: “For somebody to start making a film like that, it basically means they’re one of two things: very rich or very, very stupid,” says Kiah. “I think we come into the second category. Our ambition way outstripped what we actually had in front of us.”

    “At the start we slotted out all the scenes we had to shoot on a big Excel spreadsheet,” says Tristan. “We looked at it and we were like: ‘Are we actually going to do this?’ This is huge. It’s gargantuan. We looked at each other and said: ‘Yep, fuck it. Let’s do it.’ ”

    This is the only correct conversation to ever have before you start your debut feature.

    Wyrmwood: have you seen Australia's most pirated movie yet?

    Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner’s zombie flick breaks all the rules, not least in offering screenings-to-order – just as well given its illegal download count

  6. Great review as usual Vern, but as an Aussie, allow me to correct two linguistic errors you’ve made which are culturally important:

    First and foremost, you’ve mispelled (and likely mispronounced) the name of my beautiful nation. It’s spelt S-T-R-A-Y-A. Say it out loud mate, ‘Straya. Really drag it out from R to Y. ‘Straaaaaaaaaya. All those other letters they used to use just slow us down.

    Almost just as important, you need to use “…..cunt” considerably more. Don’t worry, we’ve reappropriated and repurposed it. In a ‘Strayan context, cunt becomes the most commonly used noun at our disposal, and as long as it’s not directed at a female (still not cool), or prefaced with “…..dog”, it’s almost always used in a positive manner.

  7. Thanks for the tips John and for being so understanding about it, you cunt.

  8. See, in American that sounds like I was responding to something terrible.

  9. See right there I’d shorten that to “cheers cunt”.

  10. make sure you don’t really pronounce the t though.

    someones a cunT if they really piss you off, but it’s more ‘cunt’ with a soft t if they’re a sick cunt or a mad cunt or something.

  11. I can’t believe I missed seeing this article until now.

    I don’t [i]think[/i] there’s a link to this anywhere but this was the teaser/proof of concept short film to the full movie. A couple of familiar faces but contradicted by the main feature (you’ll know why if you’ve seen it). Very good in its own right with some very interesting choices with the backing soundtrack and dialogue (or lack of thereof). Tonally … a bit different to the full feature.

    I heard the budget was $160,000. To confuse the issue, the Wikipedia entry has that figure in the text but $1.4 million in the information box on the side.

  12. Shan — I believe that the initial budget was $160,000, and that’s what they filmed on for most of the shoot, but that some distributor stepped in with more cash near the end to help them finish it.

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