Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014) Review

Well isn’t this something: a post-apocalyptic land about butch men covered in more leather and metal than a goth in a car accident. Where everyone drives grungy retro-fitted cars and uses bad-ass yet impractical guns to kill their fellow man. But enough about daily life in Australia, this is my review of Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead. Chortle.

Wyrmwood is a 2014 Australian action-horror film best described as The Road Warrior meets Dawn of the Dead. Combining post-apocalyptic punk trappings with zombies seems highly logical but the only time I recall it being done was Land of the Dead. And the less said about that, the better.

First impressions of Wyrmwood were rather patchy however. It begins in media res with a gang of blokes in cobbled together armour – the sort that looks like Jason Voorhees has had a tumble in an Ice Hockey supply store – fighting zombies and trying to steal a truck.

Afterwards the group sit around like a bunch of girl scouts and swap stories. It’s almost a game of guess which of these characters will survive as, out of the four men, we see only the backstories of the protagonist and lead support character.

We spend a good twenty minutes of the meagre 98 minute run time exploring the beginning of the zombie apocalypse and how this affected protagonist Barry (Jay Gallagher). Poor bloke: there’s an apocalypse and he’s called Barry.

The problem is Barry’s flashback is nothing we haven’t seen done better in countless zombie films before. Here’s a clue – Barry has a family. A red flag comparable to remembering that, as a child, you met a beloved 70’s British celebrity.

Bazza’s family are killed off, and Wyrmwood finally kicks up a notch. After euthanizing his zombified wife and daughter with a nailgun, Barry tries to off himself – only to find he is out of ammo (nails?). Delivering one of the best ‘descent into madness’ screams I’ve seen, both Barry and the film stop giving a shit.

He goes all off the rails like Mad Max Rockatansky: trying to repeatedly off himself, and when that fails it just pisses him off more. Much of the movie from this point focuses on Barry’s desire to fight everything, from zombies to his fellow man. It’s a bit like that one episode of South Park/real life in which Russell Crowe goes fight-in’ round the world.

Once Wyrmwood gets going it’s unabashedly old-school: a movie with macho posturing, where character development rides second to one-liners, quantities of beer are drunk, and heads are exploded with reckless abandon.

There’s a madcap intensity to Wyrmwood, which is embodied by the brooding ruggedness of its protagonist. Barry’s something of a turbulent force. Akin to a drunk tramp on the night bus, most of his dialogue consists merely of grunts and angry noises.

The directors, Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner, effortlessly meld together traditional zombie horror with the more ludicrous splatter fest typical of early Peter Jackson.

A scene early on plays out like something from a Sam Raimi film: a model turns into a zombie during a horror themed photo shoot, and is left furiously swinging from suspended chains all the while adorned in cartoonish monster makeup.

There’s nothing in Wyrmwood that’s out and out as gorific as Brain Dead‘s lawnmower scene, but similar to the kid at school who eats worms, Wyrmwood thrives entirely on gruesome spectacle.

It certainly can’t be held it by its story alone, because it doesn’t have one. Not a good one anyway. Nothing is explained and shit just happens: it’s not entirely dissimilar in tone to The Signal.

There’s a meteor shower, zombies attack, and Barry’s sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) is abducted by the…army(?) who have a scientist (somehow hammier than a Herbert West effigy made out of ham) perform experiments on her.

Barry’s mission to find his sister is what drives the film, though he doesn’t know she’s been kidnapped or where she’s been taken to, so that plot is resolved in a manner I imagine is similar to how you had to meet up before the advent of mobile phones: he just journeys out in a vague direction and bumps into her.

To truly appreciate Wyrmwood’s insanity you need to understand two things: the writers fully enforce the Crazy Australian trope, and a large portion of the plot takes place during the first day of the zombie apocalypse.

I don’t even recall any of the characters pausing to actually assess the situation

It’s almost as though the populace of an insufferably hot country – a people who descended from criminals and have turned drinking beer into a national pastime – are just itching for the apocalypse to start so they can knock ten bells of shit out of each other.

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