Tuesday, 17 February 2015

[Review] Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead

Have you ever had the unfortunate displeasure of knowing that one person who so desperately tries to be something they aren't? If yes, then have you ever wondered as to what the film equivalent of such typecasts would be? Enter the scrappy low-budget Australian zombie horror-comedy Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead. While there is no denying that Wyrmwood has a boundless amount of enthusiasm going for it. That passion, unfortunately, combines itself with zero self-awareness of its resounding crumminess.

Wyrmwood lifts elements from both the apocalyptic road movie genre and countless zombie movies in order to combine the two into one rollicking B-movie package. The setup here is decidedly simple. Late one night, the stars mysteriously fall from the sky. The next morning, the world is thrown into chaos as the dead reanimate and attack the living. The plot follows the usual band of misfit heroes.

Led by Barry (Jay Gallagher); a simple mechanic and family man turned unwilling hero after killing his zombified wife and child. On the road to survival, Barry crosses paths with fellow survivor Benny (Leon Burchil); the sidekick comic relief who provides zero in the way of comedy or relief. Together, the two men travel through the countryside and into the city battling hordes of zombies as Barry searches for his missing sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey).

Shades of Mad Max, The Evil Dead, Dawn of the Dead and other such classic B-movies echo throughout Wyrmwood. It's clear as day that the director Kiah Roache Turner has quite the admiration for all things exploitation/ozploitation. But the one thing he doesn't have is a tight screenplay to help stitch it all together and make it work. The screenplay lacks both invention and wit as it moves through the same old tired beats that make up a majority of zombie films.

The characters are all loosely sketched one-dimensional stereotypes. All of whom go through the same old tired motions that we've seen countless times. Jay Gallagher does an adequate job of playing the stoic one note hero of the piece but is ultimately far from memorable.

His trusty sidekick Benny fares worse. Benny is meant to be that impulsive reactionary character who blurts out whatever comes to mind. But thanks to the invention of a truly witless script, his dialog is limited to mostly just dropping F-bombs here and there. Meanwhile, a brief supporting performance by Keith Aigus as a fellow survivor serves to bring some likeability to what is otherwise a fairly forgettable band of heroes.

For the most part, the film doesn't have much to say for itself. The brief theorized explanation for why the zombie apocalypse is happening attempts to tie in some measure of biblical connotation and is welcome, but ultimately goes nowhere as quickly as introduced. Meanwhile, there is also the requisite secret service types who make up the human antagonists. Although to their credit, they are led by a decidedly memorable and campy psychotic doctor. A doctor with a love for listening to disco music while experimenting on human survivors and zombies alike for reasons never truly explained.

What it all eventually boils down to is not much more than a whole lot of zombie killing. Comparisons to the early works of Peter Jackson have been made elsewhere, but quite frankly those comparisons are little more than hyperbole.

Ardent gorehounds will be deeply disappointed to find that the film provides little in the way of inventive splatter. Unlike, say Braindead and its now iconic lawn mower zombie massacre, Wyrmwood's limited budget offers no such thrills. Heads explode like grapefruit, and that's about it really. For the most part, the effects work is moderately okay but after seeing the umpteenth head explode it quickly grows just as tired as every other facet of this film.

Meanwhile, Tim Nagle's camerawork does little to help flatter proceedings. His choice of composition has a beyond irritating tendency to favor extreme close-up shots of actor's faces for at least ninety percent of the film. The camera is positioned so uncomfortably close to the actors faces that it might as well enter their nostrils and take us on an Enter the Void stylized ride through the human body.

Perhaps it was a conscious choice to either establish claustrophobia or, and most likely, to help camouflage the cheapness of production value, but there is no denying that it's an irritable choice. Featuring a flurry of extreme close-ups, stabilized shots that were occasionally out of focus, and nauseating camera work to vainly compensate for a lack of intensity helps to give Wyrmwood its decidedly amateur hour flavor.

Despite Wyrmwood's aspirations to be a fun rollicking B-movie, it all just comes across as a little desperate. One can't fault the filmmakers for their energy and enthusiasm but ultimately Wyrmwood is a film that needed to focus less on aping other people's work and focus more on developing its half-baked ideas.

It's quite clear that the director and screenwriters were aspiring to obtain certain cult classic status, but it would seem that no one has ever bothered to tell them the cardinal rule of a cult classic. Cult classics are not manufactured; rather they are born out of an earnest love shared amongst a rabid group of hardcore fans. Despite Wyrmwood's grand aspirations to join the ranks of those films it aspires and even lifts from, in reality it's more likely to join the manufactured ranks of something like Snakes on a Plane. And that's if it is lucky enough to be remembered in the first place.

(out of Five)

-Daniel M



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