Saturday, 14 February 2015

Wyrmwood: The Road Of The Dead (2015) - Movie Review

Whenever news hits that a new zombie film is getting released, the majority of audiences will no doubt be rolling their eyes at the mere idea of yet another look into the living dead to add to the pile. Sure, there are definite classics to come out of the genre like Night Of The Living Dead (either version written by Romero), 28 Days Later, the Evil Dead trilogy, Shaun Of The Dead, Braindead, Zombieland, the current phenomenon that is AMC’s The Walking Dead, not to mention my favourite movie of all time Planet Terror. However, with the genre now being more prevalent than ever, there is the unfortunate side-effect of over-saturation; it’s difficult to bring anything new to audiences after all that we've seen. Not only that, a lot of attempts to really push the boundaries of the genre like the gay necrophilic porno Otto, or Up With Dead People or the heavily misguided romantic comedy Warm Bodies, end up pretty badly. So, with all that said and done, how does this Australian-produced zombie film hold up?

The plot: Barry (Jay Gallagher) is a mechanic whose life is shattered when the zombie apocalypse claims both his wife and daughter. When his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) is kidnapped by an insane doctor (Berryn Schwerdt) and his military bodyguards, Barry and two fellow survivors Benny (Leon Burchill) and Frank (Keith Agius) set out to get her back in their modded car that was bypasses now-useless regular fuel for a more alternative source: Zombie breath.

Yep, I think we’ve got our hook for individuality right there: Cars fueled on the breath of zombies. This film was grown out the directors’ love for Evil Dead, as well as how zombie films can be made on the cheap, and that kind of love is very evident as this is a film that feels like it was birthed from many drunken watchings of horror movie marathons. That said, though, this might be one of the least derivative-feeling zombie films I’ve seen in a long time. The film, creatively speaking, starts out with a fairly basic standing point of having zombies that breathe out methane, or meth-head zombies as I have taken to calling them.

From there, the writers come up with some pretty neat ideas surrounding them, adding on to both the material they’ve "stolen from other films" (The director’s own words here) as well as the very Mad Max-esque emphasis on car culture: Explanations on fast zombies, night-time ferocity, the aforementioned zombie breath fuelled car, not to mention… actually, this last one I won’t mention in full because it is well and truly something to experience for yourself. I’ll just put it like this: Something tells me that these guys have played a bit of Left 4 Dead. There’s also a certain deft hand at work here when it comes to a particular sticking point when it comes to most zombie films: The big question of why? Well, in this film, they hybridise the genre conventions of scientific explanations and metaphysical rationalisations when it comes to explaining how the plague started and how it works, which feels like a pretty decent bit of mutual ground concerning fans of the genre.

Now, with that said, the kitchen sink ingenuity on display here is both the film’s greatest feature and also its greatest flaw: Greatest feature, because this kind of batshit insanity is exactly what the doctor ordered when it comes to something to help it stand out from its competitors, not to mention the surprisingly good execution; greatest flaw, because it seems that the writers were too focused on creating concepts and not fleshing them out in-story. I was lucky enough to go to a screening where the filmmakers were giving a Q&A afterwards and, when fielding a question about the mystery display of awesome, they freely admitted that even they didn’t know how it was supposed to work in the film’s universe. Not only that, there are some moments in the film that feel like they are operating exclusively on Rule Of Cool, even considering the rest of the film. For example, there is a fist-fighting scene between Barry and one of the soldiers that exists solely to have a fight scene to the point where even the characters are admitting it. Then again, this is the film about meth-head zombie-fueled cars; sometimes, even I start to question whether some films need my brand of over-analysis.

This is a pretty fun roster of characters we have here. Barry may be a bit headstrong, considering his genre-dumb habit of hugging people when they are about to turn, but he knows the reality of the situation better than a lot of protagonists out there and thankfully avoids the “I don’t want to shoot him/her” cliché when someone else turns. Jay Gallagher also does an exceptional job channeling some Bruce Campbell B-grade cheese into the role that results in a pretty awesome lead that convinces without a single doubt that this is a guy who could get away with fist-fighting zombies. Benny is really good here as the comic relief, delivering his No Shit, Sherlock dialogue just right to get laughs out of some otherwise pretty tense situations. Frank gets a special commendation not only for adding some real Ocker to the mix but also for bringing us something that I didn’t even realize I needed to see until it happened: Ned Kelly zombie-fighting armour. As Aussie as bitching about boat people, this movie is!

Brooke kinda-sorta falls into the damsel in distress role at first, but as the film progresses she comes into her own and kicks eight kinds of arse in the action scenes. But by far, the most captivating character in this film is the psycho doctor. Sure, Berryn Schwerdt may not be on screen for as much as I would have liked, but the man seems to have studied every creepy performance in every horror film ever made. This is the kind of performance only possible through either the kind of method acting that would give Mike Shiner a raging hard-on or the ingestion of every drug that could ever be conceived by carbon-based life; or possibly both, I’m not putting anything past this guy. His creepy yet frightened demeanour, his bondage-side manner, his love for disco music; every second the good doctor (yeah, he isn’t given an actual name; he’s just credited as The Doctor) is on screen is golden.

Even considering that this is a partially IndieGogo-funded film, shot over a three and a half year period, this is a really nice looking film. Zombie films are often made or broken by their effects, and this film’s emphasis on practical effects over CGI works a lot in its favour. The gore effects are very well-handled, making every head-shot and occasional head-splosion as gruesome as they need to be. Aside from the red stuff, the rest of the effects work is also well-done, with the make-up on the meth-heads as well as the visuals for their breath looking ugly in all the right ways. There's also a pretty awesome sequence where a guy is turned into a living matchstick The cinematography here suffers a bit from Stoned Gremlin Syndrome, given its fixation on close-ups, but this often works in the film’s favour and creates befitting tension in some scenes. But hey, even at its worse it’s still better than The Quarantine Hauntings given how I could actually see what the hell was going on.

All in all, this is an incredibly dumb movie but one that is fully aware and embraces how stupid it can get, resulting in a very goofy but very fun splatsticky ride. The acting is good, the characters are enjoyable, the effects show what can pulled off even with smaller budgets, the extremely offbeat sense of humour brings major laughs and the originality on display throughout is amazingly refreshing while still wearing a lot of its influences on its blood-soaked sleeves. It may come across as an insult when someone recommends a film as something to turn your brain off and just enjoy, but here, that’s exactly what they were going for and they definitely succeeded. Director Kiah Roache-Turner made mention of some pretty glorious ideas concerning a possible sequel to this during the Q&A, leading me to say in no uncertain terms to "Make that fucking movie!" If the day comes when the meth-heads return to our screens, you better believe I’ll be right there when it happens.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, I have seen this movie and I am giving it a "No Comment" comment. I will just leave the judging up to the audiences. For now I will keep mum about this movie.