2015 - 98 minutes

Rated: R

Directed by: Kiah Roache-Turner

Written by: Kiah Roache-TurnerTristan Roache-Turner

Starring: Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradey, Leon Burchill, Keith Agius, Luke McKenzie, Berynn Schwerdt

Though there’s a glut of zombie-centric entertainment that has lumbered its way into popular culture, it’s rare for a film to play with the tried and true traditions of undead lore. The most pressing question is often:  should the zombies walk or should they run?  Wyrmwood successfully weaves in some welcome twists on convention while simultaneously working as a high-octane action/survival opus. There are a few logistical and logical questions that remain in the end, but vague explanations also help avoid glaring issues. All we need to know to enjoy ourselves is provided, making it easy to go along with things like using a zombie as a source of fuel for a steel-reinforced, weaponized pickup truck.

The Aussie action/horror film wastes no time getting going. Shooting stars light up the sky one night, and the next morning the zombie apocalypse is in full swing. Auto mechanic Barry (Jay Gallagher) escapes his home in the city with his wife and daughter, but is devastated when his family succumbs to the mysterious virus and he’s forced to take action.

Barry eventually hooks up with jovial Aborigine Barry (Leon Burchill) and tinkerer Frank (Keith Agius), whose barn is filled with all sorts of helpful supplies. Fortifying Frank’s pickup and donning Road Warrior-esque protective gear, the trio heads out into the wasteland, Barry on a mission to rescue his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey). That will prove difficult as she’s being held captive in a blood-soaked lab where a weirdo doctor is performing experiments while dancing to KC & the Sunshine Band.  

Director Kiah Roache-Turner and brother/co-writer Tristan blur the lines between Walking Dead misery and Shaun of the Dead angst, never allowing Wyrmwood to fit neatly into a constrictive, singular philosophy. That’s a difficult thing to do, and the siblings skillfully manage tonal shifts, gory violence, and judicious character moments, all while keeping forward momentum.

The cast is uniformly solid, led by Gallagher striking the right balance between brooding and bravery. Burchill and Agius add organic comic relief without forcing the issue. The real standout though is Bradey as Brooke – she has the look, the swagger, and the chops necessary to be a badass heroine. The biggest flaw of the film is perhaps leaving Brooke chained in the lab for too long before fully unleashing her and integrating her into the action. It feels like the events within the lab goes on longer than needed and it gets a little repetitive, though despite being chained with her arms over her head and a freaky gag over her mouth, Bradey tells a story with her eyes and her confined movements.

In addition to the use of zombies as fuel sources thanks to their emitting of a noxious gas, Wyrmwood makes their blood flammable, which is an interesting idea that isn’t overused. There also isn’t an overreliance on gnarly bite wounds being the impetus for turning the living into undead; there’s an airborne contagion at work that affects certain members of the populace. Brooke is also provided with certain powers – sold beautifully by Bradey – that come in super-handy in the final act battle with military-types.

The characters and the unique touches from the filmmakers help ground the mayhem, giving us something to latch onto rather than just the inventiveness of the various kills. In a genre where sameness reigns, Wyrmwood is a bloody breath of fresh air.  

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