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.