Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead review
The zombie film has mostly played itself out, cannibalizing its own parts and leaving little room to expand on a formula that has been copied over and over again. With television series like The Walking Dead and now Fear the Walking Dead, viewers have become accustomed to the tropes of that subgenre of horror – there are survivors struggling with keeping alive, forced to kill their own relatives, and the only thing that generally changes is the setting and the personality of the characters.
Except things are different in the Roache-Turner brothers’ film Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead. The zombie themes are evident from the beginning of the film – in fact, its first half hour or so is straight out of the Dawn of the Dead remake had it been set in the Australian bush instead of a mall – but quickly Kiah Roache-Turner takes a U-turn with an inventive plot about zombies being used as gas supplies. By extricating itself from the slew of zombie films that are simply happy to exist among the horde, Wyrmwood is able to define itself with the original plot.
It helps the Roache-Turner has a striking directorial style. His shots seem influenced from various directors around the horror sphere, from Zack Snyder to Sam Raimi (numerous speedy tracking shots evoke a strong Evil Dead vibe) to George Miller’s Mad Max universe. Wyrmwood admittedly started as a zombie flick with heavy Mad Max overtones, and that’s probably the best description one can give to the film; it would seem like a disservice to that film’s cinematic cult, except Wyrmwood does it justice and then some.
As a zombie movie, the film is surprisingly well-done despite its low budget. Makeup effects are solid, and Wyrmwood has its own style that creates verisimilitude within the film; each zombie’s turn is quick and, more importantly, consistent, and that’s one of the most important things that the Roache-Turner brothers bring to the zombie aspect of the movie.
On the other front – the Mad Maxian universe – Roache-Turner borrows a few ideas from the dystopian Australian wasteland while infusing it with its own unique take on such a thing. Jay Gallagher as main character Barry is a good stand-in for Max: he’s got the same sort of backstory, forced to kill his wife and child when they turn, and Gallagher is able to hit the depressed but badass notes well. Benny (Leon Burchill) provides the comic relief with his clueless trek through the zombie wasteland, while Frank (Keith Agius) rounds things out as the man who has seen even worse in life than a zombie apocalypse.
These characters come and go throughout the film, and Wyrmwood would lack depth if it simply focused on these characters’ continued survival. Instead, Roache-Turner gives Barry a mission to find his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) in Bulla Bulla. There’s a sense of movement within the plot, and likewise Wyrmwood switches settings throughout the film, beautifully shot and utilized for maximum effect.
Still, Wyrmwood‘s main conceit is its explanation of the zombie apocalypse. It’s noted that a shooting star spread the whole thing, like in the Biblical book of Revelations; Wyrmwood, the asteroid falling from space to spread plague, is behind the outbreak, and those left behind are undecided between heaven or hell. But the Roache-Turner brothers go further; their story relies on the use of cars, and the zombies of Wyrmwood breathe out a gaseous substance that works as fuel source for cars.
Some might find that the film’s treatment of this scenario is lacking. Roache-Turner gives no indication of how this works, and there’s no real rhyme or reason to why zombies breathe gas during the day and use it as their own fuel source at night. In a way, the film makes things up as it goes along and when the plot requires it, and viewers may find Roache-Turner’s lack of explanations a serious flaw in an otherwise solid zombie flick.
However, the mystery of Wyrmwood‘s zombie world is as mystical as the story of apocalyptic plague from the Book of Revelations, and it’s better that the film doesn’t try to explain itself and get caught up in complicated expository details. Instead, Wyrmwood runs with its conceit without apology, and that’s ballsy in a way most zombie films refuse to be.
It’s refreshing to see such a fresh take on the zombie subgenre, and most viewers will find Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead to be a surprising entry. Horror needs a little revitalization, and even if Wyrmwood refuses to offer up an explanation for its zombie traits, it’s still an impressive accomplishment. Come for the Mad Max influence, but leave with a newfound respect for what zombie films can be with a little innovation.
Click next for the Blu-Ray review.