Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead

Australia | 2014 | Directed by Kiah Roache-Turner

Logline: A family man is thrust into a desperate quest to find his sister, kidnapped by a mad scientist, and battles a landscape littered with zombie mayhem.

Like a blistered sore oozing pus in the scorching sun, the blazing star that is Wyrmwood infects the screen with a virulent and ferocious chomp, tearing off strips and barking like a rabid, fetid dog. The most entertaining zombie flick since Zack Snyder’s re-boot of the Romero cult classic eleven years ago, and, let’s face it, there aren’t too many worth singling out from the horde of the last decade. Aussie brothers, Kiah and Tristan, have fashioned a kick-arse vehicle to showcase their talents. Their love of genre filmmaking, and their guerrilla tenacity has paid off handsomely.

Barry (Jay Gallagher) finds his family life thrown into chaos and wrenched from him in tragedy as the dawn of a zombie apocalypse spills its poisonous rays. With his wife Annie (Catherine Terracini) and daughter Meganne (Meganne West) they don gas masks and make their escape. But the infection gets its dirty clutches on Meganne, and subsequently Annie. Barry is forced to end their misery, and feed his own.

Later, amidst the blood and scrub, Barry meets Benny (Leon Burchill), and the two quickly form a mutual respect, born from desperation. They hold up in a barn with a couple more survivors and discover a crucial angle to their predicament: zombie blood and breath is flammable. Since gasoline no longer works they use the rank stench from a zombie’s mouth to power their 4WD. And off they go to find Barry’s sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey), who, unbeknownst to them, is trussed up and gagged in a makeshift lab, the pet project of one very deranged scientist.

Wyrmwood’s key selling point and adopted tagline - “Mad Max meets Dawn of the Dead” - is apt, but the keener horrorphiles will champion the movie’s big nod to Peter Jackson’s seminal flicks, Bad Taste and Braindead. From the remarkable DIY ingenuity (the filmmakers took four years to shoot the feature, just as Jackson did with Bad Taste) to the striking cinematography (the vivid, processed palette very reminiscent of Braindead), Wyrmwood moves at a cracking pace, and the strong look and visceral edge commands much of the movie’s appeal.

While the score throbs with a vengeance, the special effects - a combo of CGI and practical (a wrist snapping is a highlight) – prove most excellently handled, it is the cast that shine on; the three charismatic leads, all with impressive acting chops often overlooked in a low-budget, action-orientated piece. There’s a scene-stealing performance from Luke McKenzie as The Captain, however, it must be noted, Bianca Bradey’s eyes deserve their own separate billing, such is their intensity and the way the camera fetishises them! Jay Gallagher is an Ash/Mad Max combo, whilst Leon Burchill’s Aboriginal comic relief provides the movie with some of its most memorable, and funniest moments, especially the hilarious beer bottle scene (the whole sequence of which reminded me of the superb Kiwi short Zombie Movie).

Unlimited gun mags aside, and injecting their own furious take on the zombie sub-genre with a suitably ludicrous science fiction plot device Wyrmwood straddles the instant cult classic mantle with confidence, the kind of party flick that demands to be consumed with as much beer, pizza, and blunts, as you can scoff. Hell, I’m keen as mustard to get back out on that gore-streaked two-lane blacktop with Barry and Brooke!