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“The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.”- Revelations 8:11
Leave it to the Australians to give life back to the stale zombie genre with this delightful mash-up of Evil Dead and The Road Warrior. This fun and sometimes intense and gruesome flick, tells the story of brother and sister, Barry (Jay Gallagher) and Brooke (Bianca Bradey) during a mysterious zombie outbreak. Not much is given to us about the cause except for an abundance of shooting stars on the night it begins and a biblical reference to Wyrmwood, a star which falls to earth during Revelations and brings a plague of death. Barry is with his family and Brooke doing a photo shoot in the town of Bulla Bulla. Barry looses both his wife and daughter to the mysterious condition which, for some reason, spares those with A- blood. He eventually teams up Aborigine camper Benny (Leon Burchill) who lost both his brothers. Together they run into some locals and discover that while this ‘situation’ has rendered gas and fossil fuels inert, the zombies’ blood is quite flammable and the methane-like gas they exhale works as a fuel substitute. So, they go out armed and armored to gather ‘fuel’ and rescue Barry’s sister. Brooke, on the other hand, has been kidnaped by a sinister military group who keeps her restrained and gagged in a lab where there are performing experiments on zombie and human alike. Experiments, unbeknownst to her captors, that render Brooke with the ability to telekinetically control the living dead. Obviously the two siblings and their stories will come together…and then the bloody fun begins.
As directed by Kiah Roache-Turner from a script he co-wrote with his brother Tristan Roache-Turner, this flick is a blast of fun and a breath of bloody fresh air for the zombie sub-genre. A sub-genre made stale by an over-saturation of movies and weekly zombie TV shows. They make even the silliest aspects of the story work, and work very well. They take their story very seriously…though it is laden with that off-beat Australian sense of humor, which seems to fit in perfectly with the more gruesome aspects of this deviously twisted tale. The film has a really cool visual style and is obviously made by those who love these kind of movies and who also know what makes them work. This energetic mash-up is filled with subtle references to films like Dawn Of The Dead, Evil Dead, the Mad Max films and even a playful nod to The Walking Dead involving a Samurai sword. Roache-Turner, however, creates his own flick from all the hat-tipping, despite borrowing concepts from George Romero and George Miller and makes his homage to the movies he loves in his own style. One of the things I loved most about it was that the combination of eclectic elements is mixed so well and works far better than it sounds like it should…cause it’s mixed in the right amounts and given the respect it deserves. The film is action packed but, never at the sacrifice of it’s off-kilter story, or characters, and can be very intense at times. There is also a lot of gory violence, which appears to be mostly…and thankfully… well-rendered live effects, too. Abundance of action and bloodshed aside, though, what makes it really work so completely is a charming group of main characters and some delightfully eccentric supporting characters, such as a sinister scientist who prefers to listen to K.C. and the Sunshine Band while he conducts his gruesome experiments. There really is little to not like about this film, made by film geeks for the film geek in all of us. Roache-Turner is certainly a filmmaker to watch.
As for the cast, they are all engaging. Gallagher is a charming and solid hero as Barry. Despite his loses and what is happening, he is valiantly going to find his sibling, as she is all he has left. Burchill is delightful as the oddball Benny. The character is given a lot of charm by the actor and is extremely likable. He has some of the best lines and is a perfect side-kick for Barry. As Brooke, Bianca Bradey is strong and sexy and her tattooed heroine becomes quite the powerhouse once she learns to use the side-effects of the experiments against those who hold her captive. The actress spends about 75% of the movie tied up with a fetishistic gag in her mouth and has to express her emotions and thoughts in her eyes and body language and Bradey does a great job. Long before she gets free, we like her immensely and are rooting for her. The supporting characters are also an eccentric lot and help add an offbeat atmosphere to the story and film. They seem both over-the-top and yet, somehow believably human, at the same time.
What little faults the film has are minor and not really worth bringing up when the filmmakers get so much, so right. They somehow mash-up quite a few different genres worth of ideas to fuel their homage and, as such, make sure to give nods to the types of film’s that inspired them. It reminded me of Neil Marshall’s Doomsday in that the entire film existed to pay homage to others yet, somehow, is it’s own movie. Energetic, delightfully gory and with a fast and furious pace, Wyrmwood is a real blast of George Romero meets Sam Raimi meets George Miller and yet remains very Kiah Roache-Turner. One of the year’s best horrors, so far, in my book and by a filmmaking talent to keep a close watch on!
3 and 1/2 Road Warrior-esque zombie fighters!