As with all things, horror is cyclical. As of this writing, it feels as though we are on the down-slope of the zombie trend. Sure, there is a seemingly unending stream of VOD offerings which throw some group of survivors into the cauldron of the walking dead, left to survive (or not) in this apocalyptic vision of the near future. I would have told you that I’d seen more than my share of these films, carbon copies of the seminal Night of the Living Dead in most cases, until I happened across The Battery, which stands to me as one of the truly great zombie films ever made. All that to say that I don’t enter into the viewing of a zombie film with the same sense of apathy I perhaps once did, preferring to remind myself that there is still something to be mined from these well-trodden trails.
Enter Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, an Aussie zombie flick that hearkens back to a similarly energetic zombie film, The Undead. Both are Australian and both have a tendency to lean on highly stylized shots and frenetic pacing to carry the films. In Wyrmwood, a sky full of shooting stars precedes a zombie plague that decimates the population. Unlike most zombie films, this one suggests that the plague is airborne, and only a few have a natural immunity to the virus. The story focuses on Barry (Jay Gallagher) and his search for his sister, Brooke (Bianca Bradey), who has made a desperate phone call to her brother when her model for a photo shoot zombies out. Brooke is taken in by apparent government-sanctioned soldiers, where she is held captive in a mobile laboratory and experimented on to determine the extent of her immunity.
Meanwhile, Barry travels the Outback with a group of survivors in his hunt for his sister, the ragtag group of compatriots as silly as one might expect from a film that includes an armored jeep that “runs on zombie.” As Barry closes in on Brooke, we learn that the injections of zombie blood she’s been served by a dancing, biohazard-suited doctor have given her the ability to influence the otherwise-mindless flesh-eaters, culminating in a final clash with Barry, Brooke and the soldiers attempting to save the world through less-than-ethical means.
While the beats of the film are fairly routine, there is a real enthusiasm for the material displayed by director Kiah Roache-Turner and his co-writer, Tristan Roache-Turner. The brothers set out to make a free-wheelin’, ass-kickin’ zombie movie, and that’s just what they did. The movie is propelled quickly from scene-to-scene with an irreverent sense of humor underpinning the whole thing. There’s a darkly comic tone, not unlike the aforementioned The Undead, that permeates Wyrmwood, and the movie is the better for it. Also, it’s bloody as all hell. Roache-Turner revels in showing off some exploding heads, and the effects are generally quite good. Digital blood still doesn’t look quite right, but the movie employs practical when it can, and some of the splatters are cheer-worthy.
There’s also some welcome liberty taken with the zombie mythos, veering from Papa George’s rules to include the communicability of the disease beyond the usual bite, though that’s a killer here, too, and the zombies give off a hazy mist when they shriek that’s key to the survivors’ method of transport. It’s refreshing to see someone playing with the idea of what a zombie can be in a movie, and other films could take a page from Wyrmwood in its less canonical depiction of the walking dead.
Despite all these positives, I did feel reminded that I was watching another zombie movie about someone trying to find someone else. There’s some creativity surrounding this search, but, at the end of the day, Wyrmwood is trafficking in familiar ideas at its heart. I wish the plot had been as bonkers as the film style, and there are indeed hints of this subversive plotting, but there are plenty of scenes that will remind you of things you’ve seen before. The frenetic camera work and shaky zooms made me long for a tripod on occasion, too. There can be such a thing as too energetic, and the rapid cuts and bouncing camera left me fatigued before the movie wrapped up its fairly lean runtime.
As far as current zombie films go, this is certainly one of the more creative entries in a while. If you’re a fan of the genre and like a slightly irreverent take on the subject matter, Wyrmwood is worth your time. If it ain’t your bag, this might wear on your nerves a bit, as it did mine by the end. I’ll be curious to see what the brothers do next, though, and I hope they get the chance to do it. A little creativity can go a long way.