Rating: C+/ The best thing you can say about Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is that it makes the best out of a relatively small budget and is not nearly as bad as it could have been. That might seem like faint praise indeed, but in the annals of low-budget zombie horror, it is easy to offer this movie more leeway than it deserves. Yes, the sets, the costumes, and the action sequences are not nearly as cringe-worthy as other films of it’s kind and it is actually an entertaining, if not indispensable, watch for the first forty-five minutes or so, before it gets increasingly silly and crashes and burns at it’s blood-splattered finale.
The director behind the movie has a few really good ideas, that nonetheless don’t seem to entirely come into fruition. The plot is set in the outback of Australia during the onset of a full-blown zombie apocalypse, and follows Barry (Jay Gallagher,) a fairly regular guy who finds himself trapped in a waking nightmare when his prepubescent daughter (Meghanne West) and wife (Catherine Terracini) go zombie and he is forced to shoot them in the head with a nail gun. That kind of thing would put a serious damper on everyone’s day, but things get even worse for poor Barry when he finds out that the whole outback is overrun with zombies.
Barry decides to go out and find his goth performance-artist sister Brooke (Bianca Bradley,) who due to her strange newfound abilities is being held captive by a mad scientist (Berynn Schwerdt) with a penchant for disco music. He teams up with Benny (Leon Burchill) a aborigine fellow who’s not the brightest bulb, to be perfectly honest. Then Benny and Barry join a group of heavily fortified men who reveal that zombie blood can be used for gasoline in their changed, apocalyptic world. What proceeds is a lot of carnage that sometimes feels like the filmmaker would have been better off working for the video game industry than making feature films.
Okay, here’s what does and doesn’t work. The acting is okay, although Jay Gallagher tends to chew up the scenery and Bianca Bradley, as his sister, often seems very flat, fluctuating between two expressions, frightened anger and a smug smile of badasserie. It’s somewhat hard to describe the characters due to the paper-thin writing, though fellow survivor Frank (Keith Agius) was the one character I wouldn’t have minded getting to know a little better.
Okay, the mad scientist guy is cool-ish with his Dennis Hopper-esque unhinged flamboyance, but they take him out earlier than was probably wise and pit Barry for the final confrontation against some military guy we don’t give a shit about. Brooke is annoyingly but unsurprisingly oversexualized for the duration of the entire film, standing chained up and gagged in the scientists trailer in a clingy, sweat-soaked outfit while the filmmaker nonchalantly tries to get as many shots of sideboob as possible. The action sequences are well-done, particularly for a film that doesn’t have a lot of budget to go on, but the plot itself is very weak overall.
It doesn’t feel like the filmmaker, Kiah Roache-Turner, put a lot of work into his story or characters at all. Maybe he wrote a list of some admittedly cool ideas that he hadn’t seen in the zombie genre before (‘hot goth chick who can control the undead? Awesome!’) but he forgot to add much of anything to hook the audience on a intellectual or emotional level. Some of the stuff that goes on in this movie doesn’t make a whole lot of sense
. Why does this unhinged nut who tests on zombies have a bunch of anonymous goons working for him? What does he have to offer them now that money is most certainly a moot point? Then some random guy shows up and saves the distraught Barry from killing himself, and he picks him up in his truck and it seems like he’s going to be a main character. They even give him sort of a personality, but then Benny pops out of the underbrush and blows this guy’s head off, mistakenly thinking he’s a zombie.
As peculiar as all this is, nothing strikes me as so peculiar as the fact that Benny and Barry totally shrug off the fact that Benny just killed an innocent man. There’s a brief pseudo-comic exchange about it, and then it’s never mentioned again. It’s this kind of lazy writing that makes me wonder just how much effort the filmmaker put into his script.
Now, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is not a terrible movie; in fact, if you lower your expectations enough, it’s sort of good. There are far worse zombie action-horror films out there. There are times I was kind of entertained, and jokes that hit home and made me chuckle. But it’s not a movie I am particularly glad I watched, and certainly not one I would see again.
There are some real gems in the zombie horror genre, but this isn’t one of them. I think the critics made this out to be a better movie than it is because of it’s somewhat innovative use of a shoestring budget. Maybe it was much better than they expected it to be? Anyway, this isn’t a movie I would run to see, or even shuffle at a middling zombie-walk. It’s one of those films that’s undeniably got it’s moments; nevertheless, I am not impressed.