Impulse Buy Theater - Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead
Everything you have or will read or hear about Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead will tell you that it’s ‘Mad Max meets Dawn of the Dead’. There, we’ve said it too. But you know what? The whole “It’s this meets that” is really kind of an empty thing to say and gives you absolutely no insight to the movie’s personality. And in the instance of Wyrmwood…that’s a goddamn shame, because like so many things that Americans associate with the land down under, Wyrmwood too is chock full to the brim with personality. If you’re not familiar with the term ‘Australian Modesty’, you will be by the time you finish this movie. So, let’s get our Down Under trilogy here at Impulse Buy Theater underway as we add zombies to the list of things that want to kill you in Australia.
If we’re really going to pick one of Romero’s classic zombie movies to create one of these lifeless analogies with, I don’t think the smart pick is Dawn of the Dead. The original Night of the Living Dead fits much better. The first no-brainer is that there’s no shopping mall in Wyrmwood. The best reason, however, is the cause of the epidemic in both films is extra-terrestrial in nature…microbes from a returning Venus probe in Night of the Living Dead, microbes/virus from meteors burning up in Earth’s atmosphere in Wyrmwood. Mad Max factors in not only because of…duh…Australia…but due to another little side effect from the meteor shower’s passing: combustible fuels such as butane, petrol and kerosene are all rendered inert. Well, it’s called Road of the Dead smartypants, where’s the fuel coming from? Guess.
And I have to admit, that’s one of the coolest things about the set up for this film. There’s been a long standing argument for at least the past 10 to 20 years amongst zombie movie fans…the fast vs. the slow zombie. Wyrmwood doesn’t make you choose…instead saying “BOTH!” and explains why in what I felt to be a pretty damn creative solution. During the day, we have our traditional slow shamblers…the twist being that they exhale this highly flammable gas that can be harnessed as fuel. Brings a whole new meaning to the question “Should we stop for petrol?”, doesn’t it? [Serious credit to the writers for that line. – Ed.] Once the sun sets, our seemingly solar powered zombies switch fuel sources, no longer belching the gas but running off of it…resulting in fast zombies and dead cars.
With the set-up out of the way, the main arc of the movie is we accompany Barry and Benny as they trek through the bush to make their way to Bulla Bulla to find Barry’s sister, Brooke. [That, right there, is someone who had way too many B tiles in Scrabble…just saying. – Ed.] Barry ends up filling the conventional hero/protagonist role in the film as his character goes through all the usual things that a zombie protagonist has to; the turning of the family (in this case his wife and daughter), having to kill the now zombified family, the suicidal impulses that follow, meeting up with fellow survivors and then finding a reason to live via a quest to find, in this instance, his lost sister Brooke, whom he knows is still alive because she called him at the start of the outbreak. Sure, I’ve made all of this sound rather cookie cutter…and in some ways it is…but as I’ve said in other reviews that whether it’s a story or a role or whatever, it doesn’t necessarily have to be original, but it DOES have to be done well. Jay Gallagher manages to do just that. The best way I can sum up why I feel that way is because while watching the film, I was engrossed…and it only occurred to me that the character arc wasn’t really all that original until I sat down to write this review. And that’s all you can hope for from an excellent performance…it’s so good that you completely forget that you’ve seen this several times before.
Benny, an Aborigine who is the last survivor of a hunting party consisting of his two brothers, proves to be the comic relief of the film and honestly, the performance that stood out the most to me. You know, you hear about racism against the Aborigines in the news…and then watch Leon Burchill’s performance and you just go…wha??? How can anyone hate on Benny? [Coming from an American? Seriously, dude, our own headlines don’t exactly lead anyone to think we’re exactly pioneering the way when it comes to race relations. – Ed.] Okay, so the way we meet Benny in a bit of an odd circumstance…having blown off the head of the fella who prevented Barry from offing himself by accident. But, you know, that’s another thing you have to tip your hat to Wyrmwood for…very few, if any, zombie movies consider the prospect of ‘friendly fire’. And let’s face it, given that a lot of people nowadays shuffle off this mortal coil leaving a fairly unblemished corpse behind, you have to cut Benny some slack for an honest mistake. Another first? Boomerang as a zombie killing weapon. Hell. Yes. Sure, we really only see it during the film’s climax…and it’s actually used to kill a living person…but come on! Readers of the superlative Zombie Survival Guide should certainly endorse this weapon from down under. Still, to get back on point, sure, Benny’s comic relief…but in the way that he’s asking questions or doing things that really would pop up during such a zombie apocalypse that no other movie really addresses. For example, what exactly do you do if a zombie catches you mid-stream, eh? As a guy, I can tell you I’d do the same damn thing that Benny did: Kill zombie first, put dick away later. You’ll notice that at no point did I mention stop pissing. [Stay classy, buddy. Stay classy. – Ed.]
The last of our trinity of B’s, Brooke, gives us a look at how the Australian government is dealing with the crisis…and it too involves a trope of zombie films…the mad scientist. See, while Barry’s offing his family and joining up with Benny, Brooke is in a garage/studio in Bulla Bulla doing what appears to be some sort of artistic model shoot or something…but first the model turns…then the photographer…and well, up goes Brooke into the rafters to save herself. As one would expect, the military soon shows up, shoots the two zombies and seemingly rescues Brooke…but of course, you and I both know that since they’re all in black and masked and so on…I mean, come on, they just look bad (not bad like in the costumer was an idiot because no, the guys look great…but bad as in these guys are assholes). Finding out that she and anyone else with an A- blood type are immune to what’s happening, our military boys knock her out and put here in the back of a semi trailer that serves as Dr. Crazy’s lab [Not the characters actual name. – Ed.], complete with tied up zombies and with a couple human test subjects to play with. Well, turns out Brooke proves to be more resilient than past test subjects, as she continues to not only survive when injected with contaminated blood from a zombie…but she also starts to manifest the ability to control said undead. While not a unique twist (something slightly similar can be found in Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead) it’s still uncommon enough to be engaging. Bianca Bradey does a great job conveying the steely determination to live and, when she finally comes into her own with her power, that aura of ‘I am really not going to put up with any of your shit’. One of my coworkers, who spent some time in Australia recently, also pointed out that she adheres to another Aussie stereotype…she’s pretty hot. [Poetic as always. – Ed.] So while the film does fail us in one of the Three B’s…no no…not the 3 character B’s, the 3 B’s we use to judge movies here…well, we do get a fair amount of cleavage…so hey, we’re patient, we can wait for the sequel…hopefully.
Given the spectacle that was Mad Max: Fury Road, it seems a little unfair to lump Wyrmwood in with that franchise. Yes, it has cars that run on zombies…which is a seriously freakin’ cool concept…and yes, when our boys armor up, they certainly look like they belong amongst the likes of Immortan Joe, Lord Humungous or Max himself. But this Mad Max meets Dawn of the Dead comment does this movie such a disservice. Instead, think of it like this: In a land…[Insert best Don Lafontaine voice here] where everything is out to kill you…something new has been added. Zombies. But they didn’t count on…Australia. So suit up…fuel up…and make sure there’s beer in the MedKit…because it’s time to show the undead…okay, my idea’s running out of steam. Look, all you gotta know is zombies as fuel, beers in the first aid kit and we’re going to rescue a girl who can control zombies…you in?
The correct answer is…Hell Yeah!