An energetic Aussie horror-thriller brings bright new touches to the zombie formula.
The idea that a human could become a kind of “zombie whisperer” is one of the bright new touches that “Wyrmwood” brings to the familiar scenario of survivors attempting to stay alive during an apocalyptic rampage by the undead. Armed with “Mad Max”-like design elements and a good sense of humor, this energetically executed bloodbath marks a promising feature bow for Australian brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner. Destined for a long ride on the genre fest circuit and sure to make a big impression in the homevid and on-demand arenas, “Wyrmwood” also has the chops to score theatrically in Oz with the right kind of marketing. Domestic release details are yet to be announced.
The latest in a growing list of Aussie siblings to emerge with nifty little horror-movie debuts (following Michael and Peter Spierig with “Undead” in 2003, and Colin and Cameron Cairnes with “100 Bloody Acres” in 2012), the Roache-Turners have achieved pretty impressive results from this DIY project they filmed on weekends over four years. (Kiah directed, Tristan produced, and both are credited with the screenplay.)
Perhaps it’s no surprise to find siblings occupying central roles in the brothers’ screenplay. Barry (Jay Gallagher) is a car mechanic devoted to charming wife Annie (Catherine Terracini) and adorable young daughter Meganne (Meganne West). Everything comes to an abrupt and very bloody halt following a frantic phone call from Barry’s sister, Brooke (Bianca Bradey), a funky goth designer type who reports that two girlfriends she invited over for a photo shoot have suddenly turned into homicidal maniacs. It’s not long before Annie and Megann suffer the same fate, and Barry is forced to kill his family in order to keep living.
Before Barry can rescue Brooke, she’s kidnapped by sinister military types led by the Captain (Luke McKenzie) and handed over to an unnamed mad doctor (Berynn Schwerdt) who likes to disco dance while conducting experiments on a collection of human specimens chained to the walls of his blood-spattered laboratory.
While there are diminishing dramatic returns from lookalike sequences showing the mad medico threatening to have his surgical way with Brooke, Barry’s efforts to locate her deliver plenty of suspense and visceral action. Along the way he picks up Benny (Leon Burchill), a cheerful Aborigine who says the flashing light he recently saw in the night sky was actually Wormwood, a falling star with deadly powers named in the Book of Revelation.
With tough guy Barry and chirpy chatterbox Benny bouncing nicely off each other as thoroughly mismatched traveling companions, the pic shifts into top gear when they meet Frank (Keith Agius), an amusingly rough-hewn older guy whose remote property is fortuitously fitted out with a fully operational metals workshop and a large assortment of protective clothing. In a sequence that shows why the “Mad Max meets zombies” tag will follow “Wyrmwood” around everywhere, the trio swap their everyday duds for outfits that look like a cross between the cop uniforms in “Mad Max” and the outre apparel sported by the wasteland army in “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.”
From here, it’s pretty much a case of wholesale slaughter as the bulked-up boys bust out of their zombie-infested location and make a blood-soaked beeline for Brooke. By now the resourceful heroine has escaped the crazed doctor’s clutches, but not before being injected with a chemical concoction that somehow gives her the ability to control the hungry hordes. Along with other nifty little touches, such as Frank and Barry’s discovery that zombie blood can be used as a substitute for gasoline, Brooke’s psychic powers bring something fresh to a horror subgenre that’s received a particularly heavy flogging in recent years.
Pic is ably performed by a solid ensemble and shot in appropriately unfussy style by first-time feature lenser Tim Nagle. The ace in the packaging deck is a terrific score by Michael Lira that includes everything from crunching industrial noise to fun variations on the type of overblown library music used in 1950s B-grade sci-fi movies. Visual effects work and all other technical contributions are fine.