In today’s cinematic landscape, zombies are about as ubiquitous as the Kardashians, and in many ways, just as irritating (scratch that, nothing is as irritating as the Kardashians.) It seems that every third low-budget horror flick is yet another undead opus, and over-familiarity often breeds contempt. Then along comes Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead.
Long gone are the days when zombies were used as allegories for societal ills, (Where have you gone, George A. Romero?) and zombie flicks provided as much food for the brain as the brain provided food for the zombie. Nowadays, it’s enough if a zombie film provides a sense of fun and while hopefully adding just a smidge or two of something new to the genre.
Luckily, this Australian-import Wyrmwood, provides fun in spades.
The pace is certainly a credit. It starts in top gear and remains full-throttle for the entire duration. There are fleshed-out and likeable characters to root for, suitably putrid zombies (and a fair number of them to boot) to serve as gratifying cannon fodder, satisfying gore and grue, and a generous helping of humor. Nowadays, it’s hard to ask for much more.
This zombie apocalypse is caused by shooting stars falling from the sky. As far as Deus ex machinas for creating mindless, ferocious, cannibalistic creatures go, this one is no better nor worse than any variation of nebulous radiation or toxic waste. Right away we meet our survivors, and through various forms of fast-paced exposition, learn who they are and why we have a vested interest in their survival. There’s family-man Barry who springs into action by fashioning a zombie-killing kit that would make Bob Villa proud, but ultimately is forced to shoot a nailgun into his infected wife and daughter’s foreheads.
Then there’s the hilarious Benny, who shot his brother’s legs off but didn’t have the heart to finish the job. Yet when he blows away Barry’s traveling partner’s head with a double-barreled shotgun after mistaking him for one of them, frantically asks “Is he all right!? Is he OK!?” There’s also grizzled Frank, who when we first see him is decked out in homemade armor that makes him resemble an extra from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Finally, there’s Barry’s sister Brooke, who is kidnapped by soldiers and taken to a lab to be experimented on by a deranged, gas-huffing Christopher Lloyd-like mad scientist who experiments on both the infected and non-infected alike.
Part buddy-comedy, part survival epic, Wyrmwood offers just enough new elements to the genre to separate it from its undead but too often lifeless brethren. To start, these zombies emit a green, Great Muta-esque myst which is found to be flammable and combustible enough to power vehicles (“He’s farting out of his mouth!” exclaims Benny.) Then there’s the character who gains the ability to telepathically control the infected.
Wyrmwood has been described as “Mad Max meets Dawn of the Dead.” Mad Max, I guess: the film is Australian after all. There’s also a post-apocalyptic vibe, and the characters do suit up in shoulder pads and other sports-related protective equipment while driving a vehicle that wouldn’t look out of place cruising around the Thunderdome. Dawn of the Dead though — not so much. But what Wyrmwood lacks in Romero-esque, incisve social commentary, it compensates for in laughs, adrenaline, and a good sense of spirit.
*** (out of five)