PLOT: When an all-out zombie apocalypse ravages the land down under, a laconic mechanic named Barry (Jay Gallagher) must rescue his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) before she's subjected to heinous medical experiments by her mysterious captors.
REVIEW: A half-decade after crafting a pair of short-films, Australian DIY filmmaking brothers Tristan and Kiah Roache-Turner have upped the ante with WYRMWOOD, a ferocious blitz of debut zombie feature that was shot, in complete auteur fashion, one weekend at a time over the course of four years. That is, they wrote, directed, produced, shot, edited and did the sound and VFX themselves. Impressive! In a time when the current pop-culture zombie craze gravely risks rubbing the line of apathetic overkill - here comes WYRMWOOD - a manically measured, invigorative and highly entertaining Aussie spin. I had a hell of time just sitting back and letting my senses get fully marauded by what can only be described as hyper-kinetic, wildly energetic twisted zombie-lovechild of DEAD ALIVE and THE ROAD WARRIOR. And if that's not a satisfying enough sell, how's this: I'm quite confident calling the best episode of The Walking Dead you'll ever see!
In what becomes not just a strength of the film but a motif...we're met from first frame with an unrivaled vim, vigor and level of relentless action that zombie movies these days simply lack. A hyper-violent barrage opens the flick near a backwoods barn, during which we see a masked, heavily armed trio spread hot lead across a wave of undead interlopers. Cue the title card and off we go! We meet our likable lead, Barry (Jay Gallagher), an auto-mechanic family-man trying to do right by his wife and daughter...work hard, provide a simple life, etc. But soon, during another wonderfully wicked set-piece inside a house-garage, Barry gets a frenzied phone-call from his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradley), who has found herself in the throes of an all-out zombie scourge. Brooke's two Gothic performance artist pals have morphed into manic, mouth-spuming ghouls who want nothing more than to masticate the poor girl's fresh flesh. Even as she does all she can to brutally fend the two rabid zombies off with a shovel and a haymow hook, this sets in motion a harrowing pilgrimage for Barry, as he must traverse the embattled Aussie countryside and attempt to not only keep himself alive, but to safely rescue his sister as well. A whole lot of motherf*cking blood is shed in the interim!
Loveable blood at that. Though a brusque man of few words, we come to really identify with and emotionally invest in Barry and his ever-growing task of turmoil. At the risk of full-on spoilers, suffice it to say Barry's wife and child do not fare so well in the hellish zombie takeover. Separated from Barry, our hardened lead must persist and advance through an intense blitzkrieg of warlike gauntlets and a quickly closing cordon of wild-eyed crazies. Along the way he meets a number of likeable, potential teammates. Again, I won't go into too much detail here, but another huge strength of the movie is the unpredictable nature of its survivors. Just when we start to really adore a character and think they may have a chance of being a major player in the course of the flick...BLAMMO...dead as Dillinger. This not only keeps us the viewers off-guard, we become just as jarred and disjointed as Barry does as it's happening. Again, this only lends more sympathy and even empathy for a character whose fate is truly up in the air. Not knowing who'll live or die in the flick is truly one of its strengths.
One kindred character of note is Benny (Leon Burchill), a portly, sawed-off-shotty toting gent who Barry suddenly encounters in the bush. Together the odd couple forge ahead across a warzone of abject slaughter, trudging deeper behind enemy lines to where Brooke is being held captive in one of the scariest ways ever. The poor girl is bound, gagged and hung from a wall, where she awaits her own demise by watching some insanely cartoonish mad-scientist conduct savage experiments on a raft of other captives. Dude jubilantly dances to disco tunes as if high on dust, in a hazmat suit no less, parading around a gory makeshift trailer-lab while injecting and dissecting a wall of zombified guinea-pigs. Shite's foul! Can Barry and Benny get to Brooke in time? That becomes the vital plot-point, made all the more interesting by the challenging means of travel in the flick. In a cool if not new twist on the trampled zombie template, our boys come to discover that they can actually drain zombies of their energy and use it as fuel to power their gasless vehicles, which for starters look like roll-caged demolition buggies. Social salience aside (renewable energy?), here's where the tableau and milieu of THE ROAD WARRIOR makes itself known, in addition to the metallic armor and masking fatigues that open and close the flick.
But the real strength of the film is its brimming bravura and bloody brio. It's infectious. Wall-to-wall carnage and a whirlwind of unrelenting savagery is exactly how a zombie film should be paced, and WYRMWOOD deals a deck of aces in that regard. Speaking of the title, it's meant to evoke a biblical plague of sorts that steeps the origin story of the zombies (shooting stars) in at least a religious realism that we can actually buy as back-story. And if not believe entirely, certainly appreciate as unique in the otherwise rote zombie subgenre. As for the performances in the film, they're equally passable. Nothing award winning on either end of the spectrum (Oscar or Razzie), simply serviceable enough to sell the story. The best FX in the flick were the practical ones, particularly involving the crazy fuel-draining sequences. Shite's gnarly!
Outside of some fake looking CG-blood, a la The Walking Dead, or an almost identical zombie "walker" design as the hit AMC show (glazy-eyed, slow and unwitting), other downers for me include some shoddy, almost student-film-like camerawork at times. I also thought the iconography of the mad-doctor and his seedy lab are detrimentally reminiscent of Heisenberg and Breaking Bad, which subtracts from the originality factor. But look, these are minor grouses. WYRMWOOD is a legitimately fun watch...a vicious and vivacious zombie flick with a playful sense of tone and temperament that harkens back to what old Petey Jackson and Georgie Miller were dishing up two decades ago. At the same time, quite gratefully, new ground is most definitely mowed here, both in terms of storytelling and sly social commentary. Do wise zombie-heads and Walking Dead fanatics, festoon your abode with WYRMWOOD at once!