Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014) d. Kiah Roache-Turner (Australia)
Barry (Jay Gallagher) is trying to make his way across the Australian Outback to find his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradley) after the zombie apocalypse begins. Along the way Barry meets up with other survivors including Benny (Lenny Burchill) and Frank (Keith Agius), and they discover that whatever has caused the apocalypse has also caused all flammable liquids to become completely inert. However, it has also made the blood of the zombies into a combustible fuel that can replace gasoline in a car. The men rig up a system to drain zombies and keep their truck running, but find their solution is not quite as simple as they think. Meanwhile Brooke is captured and experimented on by a disco-dancing mad scientist (Berynn Schwerdt) trying to determine why some people seem immune to the zombie "virus." His experiments give Brooke strange new powers, but will they be enough to keep her alive?
Despite a constant stream flowing into an already glutted market, independent horror filmmakers just can't seem to give up on the zombie movie. Sifting the good stuff out of the mountains of middling-to-awful takes on supremely tired material is occasionally worthwhile – see Jeremy Gardner's brilliant The Battery for a modern "zombie movie" that actually feels like something different and new – but it can be a slog. Co-writer/director Roache-Turner's crowd-funded Australian zombie movie Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, receiving a U.S. home video release from Shout! Factory and IFC Midnight (following a brief theatrical run earlier this year), is one of the better examples of this type of film. Even so, there's not much to make it truly memorable.
The problems with Wyrmwood start pretty much right away with an opening scene that displays some awful CG blood effects that stand in stark contrast to the film's effective practical makeup and special effects. The CG blood is used throughout, and while it's understandable that the filmmakers would want to get the most out of their limited budget, these effects are just too distractingly cheap not to pull the viewer out of the action.
|Um. Wow. Sooo, er, realistic. Ahem.|
An arguably worse offense is the film's constant callbacks to genre classics, never passing up a chance to shoehorn in a slam-bang Evil Dead weapons-and-gear montage and some desperate attempts to conjure up the kind of personality found in weirdo Australian genre films like Body Melt and Undead. For viewers new to the zombie movie, this might be some exciting stuff, but to genre veterans it all just feels exhaustingly familiar.
That said, Wyrmwood's biggest fault is also probably its greatest strength: sibling filmmakers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner are (like fellow countrymen the Spierig Brothers) clearly huge horror fans. The film hits all the expected notes of a contemporary zombie movie, but instead of feeling perfunctory, the Roache-Turners attack the material with obvious enthusiasm. When they go with practical makeup and effects, they go all-out with great zombie makeup and big splashes of the red stuff.
There are some interesting concepts for vehicle designs for both our heroes' makeshift blood-running jeeps and the villainous military characters' electric assault trucks. And while the story beats are familiar, at least they're trying to introduce a few new wrinkles to some well-worn material.
S!F/IFC have given Wyrmwood a solid home video release on Blu-ray and DVD. Special features include material from the brothers' crowd-funding campaign including a 7-minute "teaser" scene (basically a proof-of-concept made by the filmmakers to generate interest in the project), behind-the-scenes featurettes, storyboards, several deleted scenes, and a theatrical trailer. Fans will likely be most excited by the full-length commentary track by the Roache-Turners, which confirms their genuine enthusiasm for the genre.
Overall, Wyrmwood is an above-average modern independent zombie movie with an accent, nothing more or less. Anyone who somehow isn't completely tired of this kind of flick will probably find it highly enjoyable, but horror fans who have seen a lot of cinematic shamblers may find everything a little too familiar to be much fun.
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is available now from Shout! Factory and IFC and can be ordered HERE:
--Review by Jason Coffman
Check out more of Jason’s movie musings at https://medium.com/@rabbitroom