I'll level you with you, folks, I haven't been stoked on a zombie movie in a while. While I enjoyed the recent Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead, it came nowhere close to competing with it's superior first film. I might go so far as to say that the last original zombie IP to really make an impact on me as a viewer was the 2010 Ford Brothers film the Dead. A grim and dour painting of a 3rd world future ridden with the undead. And chalk it up on the list of films to spawn watchable though not outstanding sequels, as well.
But Wyrmwood, a micro-budgeted new notch on the headboard of Australia's best Oz-ploitation, has turned me around. This one kind of materialized out of nowhere, lurching from concept to pre-production to post then VOD abruptly and without much ado. This is a nasty bit of fun, exploding with wry humor and gritty ultra-violence, awesome atmosphere, and some incredible practical effects. Unfortunately this one never hit local theaters, but I don't regret a dime of the VOD rental fee.
Wyrmwood begins with the recounting of tales which led the main characters on their individual paths, eventually encountering one another. Barry is on the hunt for his sister Brooke, which in turn forced him to cross paths with Benny, fighting their way through the woods and ultimately ending up in a ramshackle garage with Frank and McGauphlin. All four in the same quandary of having no vehicle to transport them to where any of the group wants to go. That is until it's discovered that these particular zombies breathe out noxious and flammable vapors that can also be harnessed to use as fuel.
Simultaneously, Brooke is held captive by the military, and is put through the ringer of various tests and experiments by the Doc, a nameless character clad in a yellow hazmat suit with a certain affinity for KC & the Sunshine Band. Within Brooke, and due to the testing she's subjected to, powers are unlocked which ultimately lead all paths to converge.
The acting here is uniformly great, even from the minor supporting cast. Jay Gallagher as Barry effortlessly portrays the strong silent lead, jaded and distraught but bent on his singular purpose. He also gets some of the movie's best scenes while paired with Leon Burchill's Benny, who steals the show. Every scene with Burchill has some sort of gag or punchline, and he manages to hilariously fit the word "fuck" into basically every line of dialog he has. With a less animated actor, this would have been over the top, but here it adds to likability of the character, endearing him and getting the viewer to empathize. Bianca Bradey as Brooke is also quite good in her role, leaving a ton of her part to complex facial expressions where she's not allowed dialog. And when she is speaking, Brooke proves just as capable of dry wit and a weathered cynicism as her "brother" Barry.
Direction of the film was handled by Kiah Roache-Turner who also turned out the screenplay with his brother Tristan. Together they've managed to produce one of the genre's most convincing and fun efforts in years. They've embraced the Aussia spirit of exploitation films and upped the ante for the modern age considerably, building a believable world and various new twists that amount to enough to allow the film to stand out impressively. Taking cues from obvious sources such as the Road Warrior (similarities that are more visual than anything else), Razorback, Romero's Day of the Dead, and some of the same manic craziness of Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City. Is it somewhat derivative? I'd be lying if I said no, but in my mind plays more as sincere homage than the regurgitated dreck Hollywood refuses to stop turning out. The duo has huge potential in the genre, and I definitely expect future awesomeness from them.
As I mentioned earlier, the film is clearly micro-budgeted, assuming you have an eye for such things. Visually though, it's fairly impeccable under the cinematography of Tim Nagle. He uses a lot of wide angles, color filtering, and plays with depth of field quite often to bring to the screen a much more sophisticated looking picture than a huge swath of other similarly low budgeted features could produce if they tried. In high def, Wyrmwood is even more impressive.
While there are occasional sequences with CGI blood splatter, the overwhelming majority of the special effects here are practical. That means that the gore and grue are all courtesy of some great squib placement, and exceptionally convincing make-up and prosthesis. Extremely refreshing for the genre, considering budgetary constraints are what often leads to sub-par computer generated effects. It helps that the cast are all game for spending the majority of their time drenched in blood and viscera.
It should be evident that I liked this movie quite a bit. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but that's not its purpose in the grand cinematic scheme. What you are privy to with this picture is flattering homage from some people that clearly love zombie pictures. As a team they imbue Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead with enough original elements to allow it to stand on the shoulders of lesser fare. It's gritty, compelling, hilarious, and sometimes disturbing. It doesn't answer any profound questions, but doesn't seek to, either. Tongue in cheek and fully aware of itself, it's a definite must see for genre fans, and I can't recommend it enough!