Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Kiah Roache-Turner
Writer: Kiah Roache-Turner, Tristan Roache-Turner
Producer: Tristan Roache-Turner
Stars: Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradey, Leon Burchill, Keith Agius, Berynn Schwerdt, Luke McKenzie, Cain Thompson, Damian Dyke, Catherine Terracini, Meganne West, Yure Covich
A misfit group of survivors bands together to battle armed soldiers and ravenous undead when a zombie outbreak infects Australia.
Before screening “Wyrmwood,” my morning was spent in a breakfast conversation about the current year’s crop of Oscar contenders, tropes in general, and how some moviegoers have perceptions shaped by what popular opinion says they “should” think about a particular film’s value. It was a gamut-running discussion that started in reference to a terrible movie panned for being choked by clichés, but ending in agreement that sometimes, formula can still be fun when unfiltered, unpretentious entertainment is all that is expected in return for the admission price.
That sentiment provided the perfect precursor to a late afternoon viewing of “Wyrmwood,” an Aussie zombie battle royale few would champion as a landmark classic for the subgenre, yet pleasingly unapologetic in its aim to be a late-night crowd pleaser for the heavy metal set. Occasionally, you simply wish to indulge in a radioactive reptile toppling concrete buildings without context. Other times, oversized robots sending steel fists into one another is the sole requirement for putting satisfied smiles on faces. And every once in a while, nothing more and nothing less than a straightforward slice of smashmouth corpse carnage tickles the taste buds like only a brain-bursting bullet ballet can.
A critic quote pulled for the marketing tagline hails “Wyrmwood” as ‘Mad Max meets Dawn of the Dead,’ a notion reinforced without subtlety by the film’s freshly added subtitle, “Road of the Dead.” It isn’t just the look of mud-caked makeshift armor fashioned from shoulder pads and bomb disposal masks bringing the former reference to mind, either. “Wyrmwood” takes place in an Australian wasteland where “anything goes” is the mantra of characters and filmmakers alike.
What the aforementioned tagline doesn’t key into is how “Wyrmwood” has an absurdist insanity streak of snark and fashionable irreverence putting it on par with the type of tone “[REC]3: Genesis” (review here) and the first “Dead Snow” (review here) exhibited. “Wyrmwood” is not a clear-cut comedy, but keeps its tongue poking so hard that it practically penetrates the cheek.
There’s an outbreak in the outback, and while a number of varied survivors come and go throughout the course of 98 minutes, the key players struggling to survive in the apocalyptic aftermath are Benny the well-meaning dim bulb, Barry the anguished Everyman, and Barry’s tank-top toughie sister Brooke. After a tragedy involving his wife and daughter, Barry’s only goal is to reunite with his separated sibling. Benny is content to stay mostly out of everyone’s way, zombies and humans included. And Brooke finds herself gagged, restrained, and at the mercy of a military madman scientist with an intimidating needle and a doctor’s oath sworn to Josef Mengele instead of Hippocrates (imagine Major Toht in Marty McFly’s yellow Hazmat suit).
A learning curve for survival hops headfirst out the window as soon as the undead arise, with armed soldiers appearing instantly on the roadways and ordinary humans burying axes into backs like they’d spent a year in prison with Rick Grimes. This is a movie focused on the hardcore fun of undead horror, with creators Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner turning away from heady themes and barreling instead towards visceral thrills. There are some inventive twists to the standard fiction, such as zombies becoming currency upon discovery that their blood replaces gasoline as fuel. Otherwise, the Roache-Turners prefer wowing with their hyperdrive choreography of zombie fangs snarling in slo-mo and frenzied frames rotating shotgun shells faster than eyes can blink.
Purposefully light on rational relevance, “Wyrmwood” strips out the social commentary of Romero’s oeuvre and the dark despair of “The Walking Dead” in favor of flair, flash, and cinematic style. It’s a music video-like presentation of quick cuts, kaleidoscopic color palettes, and copious CGI sprays of digital crimson. While that may equate to a visual feast instead of a thought-provoking, mold-breaking, story-centric one, keep in mind that no one can dine on filet mignon at every meal. Sometimes, a high calorie, artery clogging, heart attack inducing Fatburger hits the sweet spot in a manner that satisfies the senses, even if a discerning doctor might wag a finger as far as nutritional value is concerned.
Review Score: 75