When it comes to over-the-top and unapologetically insane independent genre films, few nations on this fine planet come close to touching Australia. I knew it the second I saw Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior back in 1983, and nothing I’ve seen in the intervening years has proved my theory wrong: Australians know how to produce certifiably insane movies of the action, sci-fi, and horror varieties. (If you need a quick history lesson on this topic, check out Mark Hartley’s fantastic documentary called Not Quite Hollywood.) That’s not to say that Aussie filmmakers don’t churn out some turkeys once in a while, but I’ve seen enough genre-style imports from this country to make a fan for life. The wacky new zombie flick Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is a pretty solid example of what I’m talking about.
If you’re like me, you’re probably more than a little tired of zombie movies by now, but if more of them had the attitude, the energy, and the off-balance wit of Wyrmwood, I’d probably be more excited to deal sift through more of them. First off, the screenplay (by Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner) breaks a few of the long-standing zombie movie “rules” (stuff way beyond “fast zombies,” believe me) and offers a bunch of weird, colorful, comic book-style on the side.
Wyrmwood is basically about two siblings forced to contend with not only a sudden zombie invasion, but also the unexpected presence of a nefarious military squad that seems to be working for a wildly mad scientist who clearly enjoys his work. At first it seems like Barry (Jay Gallagher) is the only one who can battle through the undead hordes and save his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) from a fate worse than un-death, but the Roache-Turner brothers don’t seem all that interested in such a traditional story. Which means that not only is Brooke more than capable of saving herself, but also that we can expect all sorts of wildly gory mayhem once the siblings (and some new-found sidekicks) team up to destroy every zombie, soldier, and mad scientists they happen to stumble across.
What’s most impressive here is how the broad (and frequently very gory) humor combines with the more kinetic sequences, and the result is a 95-minute genre cocktail that seems to coast by at half that running time. Given how dour, serious, and over-dramatic a lot of zombie cinema has become lately, Wyrmwood stands out as a scrappy little indie that certainly isn’t flawless, but earns big points for trying a few new things, some of which are so screwy you can’t help but play along. (I won’t spoil anything, but keep your eye on Brooke; she gets to do some pretty enjoyably unpleasant things to those damn zombies.)
You’ll know after less than ten minutes if Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is your sort of zombie flick or not, but given that it feels like three horror comic books jammed together and then re-written by a pair of clever wise-asses, I had a rather good time. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for Australian horror flicks. Probably both.
Scott Weinberg (@ScottEWeinberg)
WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD is on VOD now (US), in UK cinemas May 8 and VOD/DVD May 11