It seems like everybody is in their villain era lately. Horror cinema has become mainstream to the extent that wider audiences are becoming more aware of the hidden cypher of morals and taboos lying beneath the human and not-so-human monsters on the silver screen. And for a lifelong and passionate fan of everything scary (as I am), this is the true nightmare. Because making horror suitable for bigger audiences came at the cost of sacrificing much of the boldness of the genre.
Looking for a fun zombie movie to watch with my mum (the biggest The Walking Dead fan I know) I came across the Wyrmwood series, consisting of Road of the Dead (2014) and Apocalypse (2022). Both of which are movies produced and directed by brothers Tristian and Kiah Roache-Turner with a budget of only about 160,000 Dollars each (TWD has a budget of 3.4 million per episode). And yet, this low budget franchise has given me all I wanted from a zombie movie, and so much more.
I want to address both movies back-to-back, not only because their refreshing take on zombie movies made me binge-watch them in one sitting, but also because they are exactly like consecutive movies should be: siblings, not twins.
I have honestly grown tired of the endless conversations about morality and humanity. Whole episodes of The Walking Dead without a single dead person walking in sight. Just people talking about the evil deeds of their fellow survivors and unsolvable battles being fought out in eternal discussions. I just want to see guts splattering on the screen, is this too much to ask for?
Enter Wyrmwood, the very Australian lovechild of Mad Max and Day of the Dead.
Director Kiah Roache-Turner appeals to his audience’s media literacy: most of us know zombies better than our own grandma. “Everybody knows what the set up is, let’s just cut to the chase. There’s zombies everywhere, you know what I mean? It’s some kind of vague, Biblical metaphor, meteors have landed, let’s put the leathers on and get a double-barrel shotgun out, and it just cuts straight to the chase […].” (Kiah Roache-Turner on flicks.co.nz) Hence, there is not much of a plot to address here. The brothers have reduced the zombie movie formula to the bare minimum. First, it is about people trying to survive in the apocalypse, and then, madness ensues.
It is a zombie movie set in “a world that is cool – it’s a zombie apocalyptic wasteland where the zombies can attach to vehicles and generators as a power source, and you’ve got somebody who has developed the power to control zombies like puppets […].” (Kiah Roache-Turner on Gamerant) Both of these ideas just blew my mind. Not because they are symbolically deep or anything. They are just fun concepts for a movie and look amazing in action sequences.
Their video game-like approach is not only apparent in their ideas, but the camerawork also borrows from this aesthetic. It is incredibly fast, chaotic, with interesting angles and quick shots. Certain scenes have a very game-like boss-fight style to them. (spotlightreport.net)
Especially the visuals and action sequences of the sequel Apocalypse are amazing. The Wyrmwood movies rely on practical effects, rather than special effects. The makeup of the zombies does look quite good (despite the contact-lenses being a bit too obviously fake at times), and the splatter action is amusing. There is no doubt that a low budget movie with practical effects will age better with time than a million-dollar series like She-Hulk, clearly overdoing it with special effects.
Also, it is a very Australian movie, proudly sporting the influence of Mad Max, with heavily modded cars and cool apocalyptic fashion. (Roach-Turner on moviefreak.com). From the usage of cricket players as weapons, to the song Red Right Hand by Nick Cave being used in the opening sequence of Apocalypse. Plenty of shots of the characteristic flora of the outback, warm colours and lonely roads. For once, we get the feeling of a country that is not plagued by overpopulation (in contrast to the vast hordes of many US cantered zombie franchises), there are no big crowds of zombies surrounding the protagonists. In fact, they eventually even struggle to locate one to use as fuel. Especially the second movie, filmed with only a few sets and locations, manages to create a unique feeling of isolation, despite being action packed to the brim.
The dialogue in Wyrmwood is cut down to a minimum as well. It gets the story across, and characterizes the protagonists: nothing more, nothing less.
The zombie genre is a genre that is generally quite good at depicting a diverse cast of characters, and it is something that puts me in a good mood. Wyrmwood is no exception to this rule, as it features a cast consisting of men and women, white people and people of colour, featuring three main characters who are indigenous. But honestly, the women of the franchise steal the show. My personal favourite is zombie-controlling Brooke (Bianca Bradley), who goes from slightly shy, but still tough in the first movie, to an animalistic, crazed-out zombie hybrid in the sequel. And it is honestly delightful to watch her telepathically make zombies use guns and grenades. Honestly badass, and, like everything in these movies, just plain fun to look at.
Despite its fast pace and straight-up out there characters, Wyrmwood somehow manages not to become ridiculous or overly goofy. There are serious moments and a solid storyline, likeable characters, and vile antagonists. And the worldbuilding is refreshingly unique and consistent.
So, in conclusion, this is as much as a review, as it is a criticism of modern horror cinema. Stop telling me about the depravity of humankind. Show it to me. I want to see the bloody roots of it. Brains and all.
If you want to give your own brain some slack and relax with some fast-paced, bloody action, at the time of this blog’s writing, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is currently available for as little as 0,99 Euro on Amazong VoD, and Wyrmwood: Apocalypse is free on Amazon Prime.
Raven Brunner. “Kiah Roache-Turner Talks Wyrmwood: Apocalypse, Chatting With Fans, And A Potential Third Movie” https://gamerant.com/kiah-roache-turner-wyrmwood-apocalypse-interview/
Skyjoker. Interview: ‘Wyrmwood Apocalypse’ Director Kiah Roache-Turnerhttps://spotlightreport.net/featured/interview-wyrmwood-apocalypse-director-kiah-roache-turner
Steve Newall. Interview: ‘Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead’ director Kiah Roache-Turner. https://www.flicks.co.nz/features/interview-wyrmwood-road-of-the-dead-director-kiah-roache-turner/
Moviefreak. “Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead” – Interview with Director Kiah Roache-Turner. http://moviefreak.com/wyrmwood-interview-kiah-roache-turner/#.Y9QsqK2ZO3A