By Tron DeLapp
The Australians see things differently than almost anyone else, especially zombie films. From the genre-redefining BRAIN DEAD to the unusually complex UNDEAD, the zombie genre never fails to get put through the wringer by those talented folks from Down Under. This year’s FantasticFest showcased another entry in the zombie genre from those wacky Aussies but due to an unfortunate bit of scheduling I was not able to see WYRMWOOD on the big screen either time it played. After hearing several dozen people talk about how awesome this film was and hearing one of my best pals call WYRMWOOD the best film of the Fest (even after seeing THE EDITOR and TOKYO TRIBE), I was determined to check this out as soon as humanly possible. Thank whomever for screeners. So, the question remains, does WYRMWOOD live up to the hype to be another stellar visionary Australian zombie feature or just another zombie flick?
The story begins in the outback as three friends see a bunch of shooting stars in the night sky. The next morning, one of the friends is dead, one is a zombie and the other runs for his life. Flash forward to the second set-up as Brooke, a cute Aussie film director, is forced to hold off the undead and is abducted by the military for purposes unknown. Flash again to Barry, Brooke’s brother and happily married family man who receives a call from his sister warning him about the zombies. As he and his family try to escape to safety, Barry is forced to do the unthinkable. In his own words, “This morning I shot my wife and child with a nail gun. I don’t know how to make that into a story.” Well, goodness knows, screenwriters Tristan and Kiah Roache-Turner sure do. Those lads start the tale in media res, creating a relentless tension through the set-up and explain the story in chunks, developing background on the fly as the stories shift between the three tales until they begin to dovetail together in an awesome cornucopia of inventive situations and solutions. On paper the story is rather simple: Barry has to save his sister as she’s the only one he has left. Along the way he meets Benny, outback survivor, who helps him along his journey. So, 1/3 set-up; 1/3 gear-up and the last 1/3 is saving Brooke (brief aside: quite a few “B” names, aren’t there?). Anyway, less talented filmmakers would use this template to serve up another standard zombie flick. Good thing the Roache-Turner brothers have loads of talent as they use this simplistic springboard to elevate WYRMWOOD above standard zombie fare by showing you things you’ve never seen in a zombie film before.
To be fair, the usual tropes of distrust of the military and science rear their heads but The Roache-Turner lads embrace what’s expected and spend their time giving you what’s not expected. For instance, the first zombie Barry sees is raiding his fridge. Why work for food when it’s right there? Or the shooting stars, a nod to the comet in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD but also a unique delivery method for the zombie virus – airborne but only affects people of specific blood type, hence a clever way to insure survivors yet provide plenty of undead. The Outback itself provides a distinctive and unusual setting that at once is gorgeous but completely foreboding and isolated. Related to that are the methods of travel and the inventive way of MAD MAX-ing the vehicles and the survivors to gear them up for combat. Tristan and Kiah Roache-Turner have studied zombie and apocalypse films and it shows through in every situation they put the main characters through. Any chance they got to twist genre conventions on their head and deliver something truly one-of-a-kind, they took advantage of to great effect.
The pacing of the movie is relentless, which director Kiah Roche-Turner worked very hard to create. These lads do not believe in down-time (nor should they) and what few moments of peace there are in this film are used to communicate essential information before plunging right back into the zombie mayhem. The gore effects are rather spectacular and mostly practical as far as I can tell and utilized just as relentlessly as the pace of the film. Kudos also to the sound design of the film, which assists in creating the atmosphere and tension Kiah Roache-Turner is working so hard to create visually. Expertly mixed, subdued soundtrack (which mostly goes unnoticed due to the events on screen) with great effects sounds that really make it seem like a cranium has been violated or someone has been shot… or the squelching of blood…. perfect. The script is also chock-full of humorous asides that do not detract from the atmosphere of the film but do allow some of that tension to release….until it’s time to ramp it up again immediately. Of note: “I cannot hold my rifle and my massive cock at the same time,” and, “I’m going to try to get some sleep. If one of those bastards gets in here, wake us up, will you?” It’s rare to see a film that’s serious and relentless have a sense of humor about itself without ruining the effect it’s trying to have yet the Roache-Turners have done just that, providing a movie that is at once a stellar zombie film yet also is not afraid to take a look at itself and find the inherent humor within.
Any down side? Yes. Until the stories begin to dovetail it does seem somewhat disjointed up front, bouncing betwixt the survivors. Kiah Roache-Turner is smart enough to keep the pacing going and does begin to explain more as the character arcs link up. I also didn’t quite get the scientist part other than what the result to Brooke is. The character didn’t sing to me as well as he should have and I honestly could have lived without his arc at all with the exception, once again, of how Brooke is affected. Otherwise, the movie works as a complete success. It’s rather hard to talk about the truly clever things the Roache-Turner boys have put together as it would assuredly spoil some of the moments that make this movie so stellar. Suffice to say, WYRMWOOD showed me things I have never seen in a zombie film before and took what on paper was a by-the-numbers tale and turned it into one of the freshest takes on a genre politely described by many as ‘tired’ than I’ve seen in many a year.
WYRMWOOD is a definite must-see film and any fan of the zombies should already be lined up outside their local Cineplex demanding this film to be shown. Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner have added another entry to the broad pantheon of genre-redefining films that Australia is so good at making and you’ll be proud to have WYRMWOOD sitting on your shelf sandwiched in between UNDEAD, BRAIN DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD. Do yourself a favor and check out WYRMWOOD. Chances are you won’t be disappointed and if you are check your pulse. You might just be a zombie yourself.