Thursday, 28 July 2016

Wyrmwood (Road of the Dead) - review

2014 (Australia)

Contains mild spoilers.

It just goes to show what be achieved with a bit of ambition, a lot of effort and no excuses. Writer and director Kiah and writer and producer Tristan Roache-Turner's high octane, highly-styled Mad Max meets Night of the Living Dead is not just a triumph of independent film making but easily one of the most refreshing, vibrant and original zombie films released in the last few years. With meticulous attention to detail, both the script and film's composition provide a tight, and believably personal zombie experience presented in a hyper-real, hyper-violent, audaciously confident comic book style. There's probably a name for the cinematography adopted by the brothers; akin as it is with the aforementioned Max Max, Travis's Dredd, and going back even further the Matrix trilogy; but with erratic and unique use of speed and angles they've successfully applied the formula, producing a film that feels compellingly modern and fused with energy, yet evocatively disquieting and uncomfortable. 

One of the ways Roache-Turner's story telling works is to keep everything tight and localised, and yet also allude to a further reaching, possibly global level catastrophe, without resorting to derivative radio and television reports. It's clever and something a cosmic, earth-affecting event such as the meteor shower used here allows; and maybe something Romero wasn't given enough credit for back in '68. Also like Romero's Night of the Living Dead the whys and wherefores are also deliberately vague. The meteor shower is Wormwood the great star from John's Revelation, summoned from the Angel's third trumpet call to make bitter a third of all the water on Earth, bringing death to mankind. Then again it could just be some freak virus or bacteria infecting all but those whose blood type isn't A negative. Either way, it doesn't really matter; there's now a great airborne infection, and only if you're lucky enough to find you're immune, and you're also able to survive the fact the person next to you isn't then you're good. Barry (Jay Gallagher), car mechanic and our hero is; unfortunately his daughter and wife aren't.

One can't help but see the parallels with Mad Max. The broken hero in a broken world; fundamentally decent and nice, yet forced towards increasingly violent means and methods just to survive. There's also the cars and his mates as Wyrmwood is both a road movie and buddy one. Teaming up with Benny (Leon Burchill) and Frank (Keith Agius) they fashion a good post-apocalyptic vehicle and a quickly fashioned, yet touching, temporal and authentic understanding with one another. They then head out, first with the plan to survive, then later to rescue Benny's sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) who in the nearby town of Bulla, Victoria is having quite the adventure herself.

Wyrmwood's zombies are gnarly, gritty and every bit the modern post Romero / Boyle gut-muncher; docile by day, ferocious by night and in quite the numerical ascendancy they really do pose the threat. As much as Roache-Turner's have adhered to the template however, they're not averse to having a little play. The whole day / night cycle is driven by the fact that zombie's blood and breath have become for want of a better phrase, the Earth's new fossil fuel; at night they keep the energy-juice to power themselves and during the day they kind of power down, with it allowed to leak out allowing others to capture it to say fuel engines and whatnot. Put like that it all sounds quite the ridiculous and far-fetched array of b-movie ideas yet Kiah and Tristan have the respect and talent that the viewer feels he or she is with the characters discovering and unveiling in its natural course; things are never forced with obvious or insulting exposition. I've not even mentioned Brooke, Queen psychic zombie and her ability to warg (Game of Thrones) / borrow (Discworld) into and control the slightly less cognisant dead yet; but safe to say again her abilities feel a coherent part of the new world as plausible / implausible as idea of the zombie itself.

Whilst hard to fault; Roache-Turner's exquisite debut is not completely without fault. In my opinion the Doctor and the military goon squad are all played a little faceless and their motives a little too unfathomable. Also with a post-apocalyptic narrative that wasn't yet into its second week I couldn't quite come to terms with a character quite so eccentrically sadistic, flamboyant and well, unconventional. These interludes rather than cementing a coherent world vision, tended to act as distractions, diversions and even though they were always entertaining and disturbing, in a good way I felt they could have been handled better. It's a small nit-pick, and I don't want to use it myself to distract from what is a sumptuous riotous pummelling-paced thrill ride. Wyrmwood stands out as a breath of fresh air in what is becoming quite the stale cinematic wasteland. For a reported $160,000 what Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner have produced is quite magnificent; especially given that there's no redundancy; not a single wasted shot or surplus moment. With zombies and effects that would still be commended if they have ten times the budget, a tight well-crafted, minimalist script and narrative with actors who unanimously do it justice; it's a labour of love that deserves every zombie fans full attention - 8/10.



  1. one of my favourite recent movies. good stuff

    1. Cheers, really loved it and can't wait for part 2.