• Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead


    Released by Shout Factory
    Released on: August 4, 2015
    Directed by: Kiah Roache-Turner
    Cast: Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradey, Leon Burchill, Keith Agius
    Year: 2014
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    The Movie:

    A comet streaking through the sky has terrible consequences for the population of Earth, altering anyone without an A-negative blood type into a zombiesque creature, while also rendering traditional fuel sources obsolete. A trio of survivors form a motley crew, led by Barry (Jay Gallagher), intent on saving Brooke (Bianca Bradey), Barry’s sister, whom has been kidnapped and experimented on by a mysterious, militarized organization traveling the countryside in an electric semi-truck. After discovering an unorthodox new fuel source, Barry and his buddies suit-up and hit the road. Will they make it to Brooke in time? If so, how will she be affected by the unusual experiments to which she’s been subjected?

    Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is yet another entry in the ever popular zombie subgenre. Written, produced, and directed by the Australian brother team of Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner, the film gleefully wears its influences on its sleeve; literally, the cover sleeve for the Blu-Ray announces Wyrmwood as a Mad Max-Dawn of the Dead hybrid like it is some sort of badge of honor. That said, the Brothers Roache-Turner spice things up nicely with some cleaver ideas, notably zombies’ breath being a fuel source for automobiles. The brother team also infuses the film with a strange vibe that is both frenetic and easy going at the same time. The action and camera move at an amazing breakneck pace, however characters have no problem dropping what they are doing to have a burger and a beer. This juxtaposition of energies feels not only uniquely Australian, but also supplies the film was some of its best moments. My favorite of which is after a nasty fight with a group of zombies, a first aid kit is needed, but the contents of kit are not as expected. By slowing the action down every once in a while, the audience is able to recover and react to the carnage on screen. It may also prevent burn out for the viewer. While the brothers do an amenable job at pacing the film, the camera work during the action scenes are a mess. The brothers employ the over-active, shaky camera style way too often. This makes it hard to decipher the action and also gives the film slightly dated feel.

    Another problem with Wyrmwood lies with the Roche-Turner brothers focusing on Barry, your typical angry, young white guy, as the film’s main character. Essentially, the film features four protagonists, Barry, his teammates Benny (Leon Burchill) and Frank (Keith Agius), and Brooke. All three of the supporting characters were more interesting and affective than Barry. My personal favorite was Benny, a sort-of Aboriginal stoner. While he was the film’s primary comedic relief, the character was given a handful of moments in which he displayed bravery, intelligence, and even pathos when speaking about his brother, whom he had to kill due to the zombie virus. In fact, both Brooke and Frank were also given nice sequences. Brooke had plenty of time to show off her newly acquired mystical powers, while Frank was given a scene to wax philosophically about religion. It was nice the Roche-Turner brothers gave time to these three characters, it was just a shame that bland Barry was given the lion’s share of the film.

    The filmmakers had another problem in regard to the film’s ending. The Roche-Turner brothers obviously wanted some sort of “showdown” climax in which Barry would engage in fisticuffs with the film’s villain. The problem, however, other than being cliché, was the filmmakers never set-up a character to be the villain for Barry to fight. What we got was some random, nameless goon for the big brawl. This felt very strange and anti-climactic. It was as if Luke Skywalker fought a random Storm Trooper at the climax of The Empire Strikes Back instead of Darth Vader. I had absolutely no reason to care about the fight, I did not even know who one of the combatants was. The fight was completely emotionless and a waste of time. It felt incredibly flat.

    This leads me to my primary thoughts about Wyrmwood. Throughout the film I kept noticing visual nods to other films, i.e. Mad Max, Evil Dead 2, The Mist, etc. From some reason these references continued to weigh on my mind even after the film was over. After going over the film for a while I began to think about Postmodernism in film and the concept of one film being in conversation with filmic culture through the use of borrowed images, or images knowingly structured to act as references to older films. The Roche-Turner brothers seem to pluck visual cues from their favorite films quite liberally in Wyrmwood, but I never felt they did so in a way that the visual sampling felt like engagement with their influences. The filmmakers just used the cues because they felt the imagery looked cool. In this regard I began to think of Wyrmwood not as Postmodernism, but rather Post-Postmodernism. A film aware of, and interested in, filmic culture but only on a surface level. I suppose this is fine, and truth be told, I did enjoy the film to an extent, but the whole thing felt very hollow. Without the intertextuality between Wyrmwood and, for example, Evil Dead 2, the scene where Barry “suits-up” in his tool belt in a fashion reminiscent of Ash means nothing. I learned nothing about Barry as a character or what the character Ash means in relation to heroes within the context of horror cinema and why he has had a lasting impact. Instead of trying to create some sort of meaning, the scene just made me expect Barry to say “Groovy”.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Shout Factory has given Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead a stellar Blu-Ray release as part of their Scream Factory sublabel. The disc is presented in a high definition 1.78:1 transfer that looks very strong with absolutely no imperfections. The film is quite colorful and at times looks somewhat pretty. This was a nice surprise as many horror films are overtly dark. Shout has also given the film two English language audio options, DTS-HD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0. Both options sound very good and since this is a rather loud film, it gets pretty rollicking. English SDH subtitles are included which is always a plus for me.

    The release is loaded with extras. The first of which is a commentary with the Roche-Turner brothers. They are a pretty easy listen. The duo are never for a loss of words and seem to really enjoy their film. One telling moment during the commentary was when one brother noted he did not like scenes of people sitting at a table talking, he likes action. I wonder what he would think about My Dinner with Andre. The next major extra was The Wyrmdiaries: Behind the Scenes of Wyrmwood, a nearly 50-minute documentary on the making of the film. It was alright, seeing how they pulled off some of the stunts and effects work was interesting but there was just too many scenes of the crew goofy off to be truly enjoyable.

    Next there was a collection of videos dealing with crowd-funding and a seven-minute teaser scene. The teaser was an early attempt at one of the main feature’s action sequences and was so wildly shot that it was hard to watch. Following that was a collection of boring deleted scenes which were included for all the masochists in the audience. Closing out the special features was a series of somewhat cute storyboards and a handful of trailers.

    The Final Word:

    Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is an enjoyable, yet empty viewing experience. It is fun for a one-time viewing, but I cannot imagine wanting to watch it very often, if ever again. The film features enough clever ideas, humorous moments, and fun characters that it is worthwhile for any fan of the zombie subgenre.


    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screencaps!