In the aftermath of a comet breaking up over the Earth, most of the planet's population succumb to a strange disease which turns them into 'zombies'. Few survive, and those who do quickly discover all existing fuel sources have been rendered unusable by the plague. Trapped in a wilderness filled with living dead, unable to travel to any safer location, survivors have little to live for. One of those survivors, family man Barry, has lost everything except his sister location, survivors have little to live for. One of those survivors, family man Barry, has lost everything except his sister Brooke. But as the disaster unfolds, Brooke is kidnapped by a gang of paramilitary thugs and dragged off to a horrific medical lab run by a psychotic 'doctor' who is performing deranged experiments on plague survivors. Barry ad his team of fellow survivors must fight through hordes of flesh-eating monsters in a harsh Australian bushland in order to reclaim the only thing that matters in this dark apocalypse: family.
The independent horror scene is hot right now with plenty of young directors providing a fresh approach to the genre. Wyrmwood is another such film with first-time director Kiah Roache-Turner taking an original whack at the ever-popular zombie subgenre. He breathes new life into an overly populated area of horror with surprises, grit, humor and energy. It’s a film that spins a bloody web of ideas that may go overboard the way it keeps adding more as it goes along, but it doesn’t diminish the joy of seeing something new and unique.
The zombie outbreak this time around is airborne, affecting all those with blood types that are not A positive. Those infected become flesh-craving creeps that emit methane. The unexplained disease apparently renders all flammable liquids useless so, naturally, there will be a moment where a car runs on zombie fumes. But, wait, there’s more! There’s a mad scientist doing experiments on human beings by slowly infecting them with his zombie test subjects. Doing so creates a human being that can somehow psychically control zombies with her mind and reflexes.
These two stories are filled with some likable if not predictable archetypes. Our protagonist is the bearded mechanic Barry who becomes emotionally hardened after losing his family to the outbreak. He tries to kill himself, but finds the will to live through survivors and the prospect of finding his sister. The survivors he teams up features a familiar batch of characters: the quick-talking black guy, the mustached gun-runner and a couple of one-notes for zombie fodder. In the B-story with psychic zombie control is Brooke, spending most of the movie with a gag in her mouth as the mad scientist performs his experiments. Once she’s let loose with her newfound powers, however, she gets to play it up just as much as everyone else in the picture.
As with any great horror, Wyrmwood draws its inspiration from the charming greats. There’s an inventiveness to the zombies which echoes shades of Re-Animator and Bad Taste. There’s great care with the camera to make scenes that shine in the tradition of The Evil Dead and Dawn of the Dead. And it just has an overall giddy tone that knows exactly where to have fun with its material and when to be gritty with its violence. It may be having too much fun in the way characters seem to shift to the “hell yeah” well of dialogue abundantly, but it helps that it’s working off a script that feels different.
At a micro-budget of only $160,000, this is one impressive first picture for Kiah Roache-Turner. The man has an eye for shooting scenes of intense action and effective horror. The creativity behind nearly every shot is amazing. There’s some real craft in the assembly as with the “armor” worn by the survivors and the zombie-fueled car they assemble in a garage. Bonnie first encounters the zombies at a horror-themed photoshoot leading to her stylishly-painted subject to attack in chains. And the entire sequence with the mad scientist is wonderfully lit with the right amount of fright and strange.
If the zombie genre appears on its last undead legs, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead renews the faith with an injected boost of bloody fun and originality. It takes an idea that could be too silly and turns it around with the right amount of enthusiasm for Ozploitation. There’s a unique charm to its setting, its ambition and its overall tone. If the zombie genre continues to be constant for many more years, I’d be okay so long as long as capable new filmmakers like Kiah Roache-Turner flourish to bring some new flesh and blood to the genre.