Gleefully Gruesome Wyrmwood a Full-Throttle Treat
A comet streaks across the sky. Mechanic Barry (Jay Gallagher) and his family find it beautiful, but as far as the grand scheme is concerned they don’t think all that much about it and quickly turn in for the night. But sleep doesn’t come easy, especially when a rabid neighbor invades their home looking more dead than alive. Turns out, a horrific plague is sweeping across all of Australia, and while some are immune the majority find themselves transformed into flesh-eating zombies ready to disembowel all they encounter.
Things quickly go from bad to worse, Barry cut off from all he loves deciding to set out on a seemingly hopeless mission to find his missing sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) who he refuses to believe is dead. And he’s right, too, even if he doesn’t know it, the headstrong young woman immune from the zombie virus and because of that she’s been kidnapped by a group of paramilitary thugs lead by a crazed Doctor (Berynn Schwerdt) who knows more about what’s going on than he chooses to say.
I get it. Zombie movies are a dime a dozen, and even as a self-proclaimed horror genre junkie I can’t say I get all that excited about seeing new ones all that often anymore. Once upon a time you could make a bad zombie flick and still get some relatively jovial, suitably stomach-churning mileage out of them. But thanks to shows like “The Walking Dead,” VOD, the SyFy Channel and countless other avenues for release the well has ostensibly begun to run dry, and while the genre can still offer a few moderate amusements it takes a monumental effort indeed to get me to stand up and take notice in this day and age.
Thankfully, the Aussie import Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is just that sort of effort, the film a giddy, go-for-broke apocalyptic assault on the senses that plays like it’s the happily exuberant love child of Georges Miller (Mad Max) and Romero (Night of the Living Dead). Suitably silly, undeniably gory, the picture is still an imaginative take on the genre that offers up notable idiosyncrasies and ideas that just get better and better as things go along. Director Kiah Roache-Turner delivers a startlingly entertaining debut, he and his brother Tristan composing a script that’s as ingenious as it is flat-out cool.
I think what I adore most about the film is that it actually doesn’t just fall in love with the warped stuff, doesn’t just wallow in the expertly delivered blood and guts. Instead, Kiah and Tristan go out of their way to give Barry layers, allowing him to be well-rounded, suitably grounded everyman trying his best to navigate the most impossible of situations. There’s an emotionally crushing sequence featuring him and his family along the side of the road after their car has mysteriously stopped, while a growing friendship between him and wandering aborigine Benny (a terrific Leon Burchill) is authentically complex.
Yet this is still a cartoon, a glorious, high-octane whirligig of souped-up automobiles and rampaging undead hordes that’s so much fun there should probably be a law against such things. The brothers pay homage to the genre while at the same time coming up with ideas and concepts uniquely their own, the way they solve a sudden, unexplained petrol shortage nothing less than virtuosic. Kiah stages some remarkable action sequences and does so on what had to have been a relatively miniscule budget, blatantly stealing from pictures as disparate as The Road Warrior, Supercop: Police Story 3, the Fast and the Furious franchise and even Resident Evil. Yet he makes these lifts feel uniquely his own, adding his own distinctive twist every single supercharged step of the way.
At the center of the chaos is Gallagher, and like Mel Gibson and Russell Crowe before him this Australian actor has the makings of an international superstar. He’s magnetic, oozing a form of carnal, all-powerful masculinity that’s intoxicating. Same time, he’s not afraid of displaying emotion, allowing the viewer to see inside Barry’s soul giving the film added dimensions and depths that can’t help but make it all the more invigorating and appealing in the process. While I’d never say he’s guaranteed to rise to the same heights as those Braveheart and A Beautiful Mind Oscar-winners I do think he’s got it in him to do so; here’s my vote hoping he does it.
Wyrmwood doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t shake up the zombie genre so much that it will never be the same afterwards. Yet it’s filled to the brim with indelible moments that joyfully take up space in the memory, showcases sequences of ingenuity and wit that had me rocking back and forth in my seat in total, unrestrained euphoria. Director Kiah Roache-Turner is the real deal, the man a talented newcomer I can’t help but expect great things from, his debut one of the most gruesomely pleasurable ones I’ve come across in quite some time.
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)