Friday, 31 July 2015

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead

Since the infectious success of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s romantic zombie comedy (or “rom-zom-com”) Shaun of the Dead back in 2004, a horde of other zombie- and horror-comedies have shuffled onto the scene to have a bash at replicating – or at least piggybacking on – that success. Unfortunately for me, an entire decade slipped by without a horror comedy satisfying my itch for something as special as Shaun – something that could deliver well-rounded, likeable characters and emotional punches as well as, y’know, comedy and horror.

The trailer for Kiah Roache-Turner’s low-budget, Aussie zom-com Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead didn’t do much to convince me it was any different. For just over two minutes, I watched typical Aussie blokes doing typical Aussie-blokey things (swearing, being laidback, drinking beer, speaking in Australian accents, etc.) in a zombie apocalypse setting. It looked decent enough – maybe as good as, say, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil or John Dies at the End, which I scored 4/5 last year – but definitely not the zom-com I’d been waiting for. A few minutes in, after a stellar intro that rivalled Disney-Pixar’s Up in terms of heart-wrenching emotional impact (probably a weird comparison, but bear with me), I’d started to reassess. Could Wyrmwood really be the best thing since sliced Pegg, after all?

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is out now on Blu-ray and DVD, and tells the story of Barry (Jay Gallagher), a typical guy living with his wife Annie (Catherine Terracini) and daughter Meganne (Meganne West) in the Australian outback. Their life together is pretty good – not idyllic, exactly, but definitely happy – until a meteor shower somehow unleashes an airborne virus, and Barry’s badass sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) calls to let him know she’s being attacked by zombies in her garage. Barry kits his wife and daughter out with gas masks and bundles them into the car, but they don’t get far before it becomes obvious it’s too late; Annie and Meganne have already succumbed to the virus, and Barry is forced to finish them off with a nail gun to stop them attacking him. It’s the first of many moments in the film that manages to be hauntingly scary and hauntingly sad at the same time, and you can feel it hanging over Barry for the rest of the movie, guiding everything he says and does.

Barry teams up with a group of other Aussie blokes, including Benny (Leon Burchill), an aboriginal hunter with his own horrifying backstory to tell, while Barry’s sister Brooke ends up on the wrong side of a military unit and has to endure a series of truly twisted experiments at the hands of a deranged scientist (Berryn Schwerdt).Wyrmwood is a smartly-written film, bolstered by some great acting and peppered with genuinely original, intriguing twists to the zombie movie format. I got scared, I wrung my hands, I said “no no no no” under my breath, and I genuinely felt for the characters when things went wrong. And yes, I did laugh: The banter between the main characters and the easygoing way they deal with their situation is perfect, and the shambling, ineffectual zombies themselves deliver some light relief in between bouts of snarling and biting.

So yes, as far as I’m concerned, Wyrmwood really is the best zom-com since Shaun of the Dead and – this is the really important bit – more than original enough to stand on its own merits as the definitive zom-com of the 2010s. That’s no mean feat, considering this was Kiah Roache-Turner’s directorial debut – and the fact he only had a tiny, roughly £80,000 budget to play with. Kiah Roache-Turner and his producer brother Tristan are currently working on a film they’ve described as an “R-Rated Ghostbusters”, which will be followed by Wyrmwood 2 in early 2017. And I for one can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with next.

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead gets a perfect score of 5/5.


Mike Lee

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead at CeX

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