Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #468
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Release Date: 19 September 2014 (Fantastic Fest), 12 February 2015
Sub-Genre: Zombie/Road Movie
Country of Origin: Australia
Running Time: 98 minutes
Director: Kiah Roache-Turner
Producer: Tristan Roache-Turner
Screenplay: Kiah Roache-Turner, Tristan Roache-Turner
Special Effects: Gavin Kyle, Adam Sanders, Nicolle Adrichem
Visual Effects: Arseny Rudchenko
Cinematography: Tim Nagle
Score: Michael Lira
Editing: Kiah Roache-Turner
Studio: Guerilla Films
Distributor: IFC Midnight, Scream Factory
Stars: Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradey, Leon Burchill, Keith Agius, Berynn Schwerdt, Luke McKenzie, Cain Thompson, Damian Dyke, Catherine Terracini, Meganne West, Yure Covich, Beth Aubrey, Sheridan Harbridge
Suggested Audio Candy
I love it when a plan comes together. Brothers Kiah & Tristan Roache-Turner must be over the moon after showing what a little hard graft and dedication can achieve. Their crowdfunded zombie road movie, Wyrmwood: Road of The Dead, is the epitome of a labor of love. Taking nearly four years to complete and shooting only on weekends, their film has gone on to amass quite the following and even enjoyed a brief theatrical release, before its worldwide release on DVD. That’s quite an achievement as finding distribution presents a mammoth task to first-time filmmakers and many fall at the very first hurdle. It’s a jungle out there and can be a soul-destroying pursuit for those looking to break into the industry but the Roache-Turner brothers appear to have hit pay dirt and already Wyrmwood 2 is in the planning stages proving that, with a little perseverance and rolled up sleeves, it can be done.
Nary a week passes that doesn’t include at least one new zombie flick hitting the already over-saturated marketplace and it has long ceased being an event. However, there is still room for maneuver, should it be approached the right way and not be afraid to stray from the usual tired formula. Timing is crucial too and, with Marc Forster’s World War Z having enjoyed a prosperous theatrical run to the tune of over half a billion dollars the year previous, Wyrmwood arrived at just the right time to grab itself an attentive audience. In a few ways the two films are strikingly similar while, in practically every other, they really are worlds apart. The idea of a worldwide pandemic that doesn’t blight everyone exposed is an intriguing premise that both movies have their own take on.
With both men writing, Tristan producing, and Kiah taking his place behind the Canon 5D, they appear to have found their true calling and the proof here is in the pudding. And what a dainty dessert it is too. From the opening five scene which grabs us by the short and curlies and gives them a twist, we are in their capable hands and Wyrmwood hits the ground running and seldom slows down to take stock. Our main protagonists are soon revealed to us through retrospect and there’s hardly a moment to draw breath through the entire first act. 98 minutes is not a great deal of time to explore and deploy, particularly when the possibility of franchising beckons, but not a solitary moment here ever feels wasteful.
After what is effectively a rip-roaring thirty-minute prologue, the film susses out its algorithm and sets off in more linear fashion. Our boys with toys, Barry (Jay Gallagher) Benny (Leon Burchill) and Frank (Keith Agius), have got any niceties out-of-the-way and have each lost something precious to them as the zombie apocalypse has picked up speed. Despite having to dispatch first his wife, then young daughter with a nail gun, Barry still has something more to lose and his new pals decide they have nothing better to do than to rescue his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey). She has been absconded by military types and placed in a particularly compromised position a few clicks off through the bush land.
Brooke is a badass and, if there’s one thing that tickles my fickle pickle, then it is a bankable female character with fire in her belly. You could say she’s our Furiosa and wouldn’t be far off, but the ability to open whoop cans with her bare teeth is where any similarities end. This brings me back to scheduling. Wyrmwood was bookended by successful box office returns for both World War Z and George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road and the latter is also very much of inspiration. What we have here is effectively a road movie once our survivors learn that zombies’ breath and blood are highly combustible and can provide the fuel needed to embark on their cross-country mercy mission.
Gallagher, Burchill, and Agius are all wonderfully expressive, while fringe players like the glorious and shamefully underused bearded pothead Chalker (Yure Covich) also sell themselves effortlessly. Affable doofus Benny acts as the perfect foil for Barry’s bravado, and you really get to share in their camaraderie, while spunky Brooke ensures that this doesn’t become a boys only affair. They have the freedom of the bush at their disposal, albeit with ravenous powered-up night zombies chomping at their insoles the whole way, but she faces an altogether more disparaging challenge. Forcibly detained and shackled in a quarantined tent beside all manner of embittered dead heads, the true thorn in her side here is The Doctor (a wonderfully wild-eyed Berryn Schwerdt). Doc is what we often refer to as “one sick mother humping puppy” and prone to breaking out in impromptu disco moves.
Just like Victor Frankenstein, although more likely dressed like Dr. Frank-N-Furter under his hazmat suit, the good doctor has created a monster and Brooke’s new telepathic ability to control the horde takes the story in a different direction than simply search and rescue. Indeed, nothing feels predictable, and that is a great tip of the Crimson Quill to the Roache-Turners for keeping us on our toes from minutes one to ninety-eight. I’m even willing to forgive them for subtracting Chalker from the equation although, once again, I truly didn’t see that one coming. You need an element of the unknown when setting off on any road trip worth its fuel as it is nothing without a sense of adventure. Wyrmwood remembers the rules of the road and fills the screen with armored vehicles and rampant marauding cadavers to act as fuel for our engines.
The highly stylized and color-saturated shooting style is reminiscent of something you would peruse in 2000AD and Tim Nagle’s zippy cinematography captures the vibe delightfully. The action is well orchestrated and one particular stunt that almost resulted in a fatality for Bradey’s double offers testament to the brothers’ edge of the pants approach. There’s also plenty of splatter on exhibit and that $160k investment is put to good use with regards to painting the screen red. Ultimately, there are many reasons why Wyrmwood raises its shoulders above much of the competition. In a world plagued by carbon copy zombies, it’s just ripper to see young filmmakers with the courage of their conviction, making movies like this a reality.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: There is a fair share of cost-cutting CGI involved which thankfully isn’t too distracting. The practical effects, on the other hand, are perfectly icky and there is enough splatter on the platter to fuel one bloody hell of an outback expedition. Heads pop, bones splinter, wounds are bitten, samples extracted, infants nailed, and dead meat impaled. That sounds like a darn tooting way to spend your weekends if you ask me.
Read Mad Max: Fury Road Appraisal
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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