Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014)

Prepare Yourself

Best described as ‘Mad Max meets Dawn of the Dead,’ Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is an interesting Australian take on the tired sub-genre of the zombie apocalypse. The debut feature film from Australia’s Roache-Turner brothers, Kiah — billed as writer/ director — and Tristan — credited as writer/ producer and production designer — Wyrmwood is only able to grace the screen thanks to the brother’s commitment and dedication, along with the aid of a loyal bunch of IndieGogo backers who helped fund the passion project; a bold mash-up of car chases, bloody violence and crazy homemade weaponry. This energetically paced feature gets its bizarre title from Revelations verse 8:10-11, which states: ‘ … and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky … and the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the world turned bitter, and many people died,’ loosely explained in the picture’s second act.

How long will you survive?
How long will you survive?

In the aftermath of a comet breaking up over the Earth, Wyrmwood essentially follows two protagonists, Barry (Jay Gallagher) and his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey), in their struggle to endure a post-apocalyptic nightmare as the planet’s population succumbs to a strange sickness, which turns almost everyone into zombies. Barry’s normal life is turned upside-down when the mechanic gets a frantic late-night phone call from his sister, Brooke, after one of her models turns demonic while working on a night-time photography shoot. But as tragedy unfolds, Brooke is kidnapped by a gang of paramilitary thugs and dragged away, imprisoned by a psychotic ‘doctor’ who subjects her to a series of deranged experiments. All the while, Barry — after losing his wife and daughter to the illness — teams up with fellow survivors Benny (Leon Burchill) and Frank (Keith Agius), determined to race across the Australian outback in an effort to rescue Brooke and protect the little family he has left.

This wild narrative basically switches back and forth from Barry to Brooke; with each character’s experience being equally as nutty and both perspectives incredibly diverse. While Barry is tested as he battles it out with flesh-eating zombies in the Australian bushland, Brooke is exposed to a different kind of sadism as she is forced to endure medical experiments for an insane doctor (Berryn Schwerdt), who dances to KC and the Sunshine Band’s ‘Get Down Tonight.’ Although Wyrmwood never reveals too much about its overlying ‘end of the world’ specifics — we never get an explanation as to why all gasoline ceases to work or why/ how these new zombies have become flammable, as a result making them an ideal alternative fuel source — however, the picture’s ferocious camera angles — heavy use of point-of-view and extreme close-up shots — pounding score and distinct imagery display enough flavor to ensure genre fans remain fixed to the screen.

Doctor's Orders
Doctor’s Orders

Instead of putting a deposit on a new home, the Roache-Turner brothers decided to veer in an alternative direction, putting all their hard-earned cash into this Ozpocalypse feat, highlighting their immense determination to get the project off the ground. Financed completely independently — the brothers had no studio involvement or government funding whatsoever — this bloody micro-budget road trip soars, thanks to its snappy deadpan dialogue and quick conversations — which get straight to the point — gritty doomsday atmosphere, excellent prosthetic and make-up effects — apparently setting a new record for the most prosthetics used in an Australian-made film — and amusing characters, chiefly Leon Burchill’s Aboriginal survivor Benny and the feisty Aussie vixen Bianca Bradey, who is involved in the picture’s best sequence.

Admittedly, Wyrmwood borrows from a plethora of similarly themed movies and television shows, yet the Roache-Turner brothers demonstrate their apt filmmaking skills with this increasingly crazy, ultra-violent and ballsy debut, in turn showcasing Australia’s talent when it comes to horror — particularly in the wake of‎ Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014). Paying homage to a number of films, from Mad Max (1979) to The Evil Dead (1981), Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead successfully breaks away from the countless generic zombie pictures of late, creating a new set of rules, in turn adding its own unique flavor to the somewhat tiresome genre, making the flick a worth while experience for those who enjoy gross-out horror thrill rides. I, for one, am eager to see where the Roache-Turner brothers go from here, but am more than open to sit through a Wyrmwood sequel.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is released through Studio Canal Australia