For his feature film debut, Australian filmmaker Kiah Roache-Turner delivers a raucously fun and badass zombie-infused road movie in Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead. Co-written by Kiah and his brother Tristan, the story follows an unlikely hero by the name of Barry (Jay Gallagher) who must fight his way through hordes of newly transformed zombies in order to save his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) who has been kidnapped by government officials under mysterious circumstances.
Daily Dead recently spoke to Roache-Turner about his experiences collaborating on the indie horror film alongside his brother, how the story of Wyrmwood evolved over time throughout production, the importance of making something more than ‘just another zombie movie’ and what they’ve got planned for the sequel in the future.
Thanks so much for chatting today, Kiah. The movie is just fantastic and it’s probably one of the best zombie films I’ve seen in a long time. In fact, it takes a lot for me to enjoy zombies these days and Wyrmwood was so inventive and I loved what you guys did with the mythology.
Kiah Roache-Turner: Thanks so much- I’ve had a lot of people say that since we started screening it last year and honestly, it’s the biggest compliment I could have ever hoped for.
Let’s talk about the story to start off with- you guys do some bold things with the ideas of zombies that I’ve never seen before, which was cool. Were you nervous at all about how any of those changes would be accepted by fans or were you pretty confident from the start?
Kiah Roache-Turner: Tristan and I knew that the story we wanted to do for the screenplay was going to be risky but in all honesty, we actually began working on Wyrmwood three years ago so the ideas we had going in definitely evolved over time. For the better though, I hope (laughs).
One thing that we did- and I would NEVER recommend doing this for any director out there- but, we actually began shooting before we had the screenplay finished. We broke the golden rule and I think that was part of the evolution of Wyrmwood too because we didn’t know what the hell we were doing at first (laughs).
I think that’s also why the film has three distinct tones to it- it starts off as a very serious horror movie and then it evolves into this more action-driven story and by the third act, things take a mystical turn and we weren’t originally sure if that would work overall but we’ve gotten some great feedback on how we ended up blending all those elements together in the final film.
I think they all work great- the humor also gave the material a lot of energy which I think really helps bring all those varying elements together.
Kiah Roache-Turner: Yeah, I’d definitely agree with that. You know, about a year into making Wyrmwood, we began screening it for people just to see their reactions and it was interesting to see them all engaged, but they were just kind of sitting there, staring in horror. Because it was a straight-forward horror movie, it just didn’t seem like ‘fun’ when people were watching it and both Tristan and I are fans of movies that can make you laugh so we knew we had to rethink a few things at that point. So we looked back at certain movies we loved growing up- like Raiders (of the Lost Ark) or Star Wars- that still have that sense of humor to them as inspiration.
Let’s talk about Bianca, who plays Brooke in Wyrmwood, for a second because I completely fell in love with her character and I enjoyed the fact that there’s this evolution to her character that she goes through after she’s been captured which was really badass.
Kiah Roache-Turner: The character of Brooke is really interesting because about a year into production, we changed her role completely. She was originally Barry’s love interest but then we eventually made her his sister which, as you can imagine, was a little complicated (laughs). But I think the changes made those characters that much more stronger and more interesting too. It changed the stakes of the story a bit, too.
That also happened with Luke McKenzie’s character; he started off as Barry’s brother but when we made the changes to the Brooke character, it kind of left him out. Because we wanted him to be a part of this project, we had him play this crazy Captain role which I think he had a lot of fun with. And all of those changes we par for the course on Wyrmwood- they say you have to make a movie to really learn how to make a movie and that’s precisely what happened here.
Something else I’d love to chat about was the visual style you used in the film; so many horror movies these days go for that monochromatic look- especially when it’s a zombie outbreak/apocalypse kind of scenario- and I love that you kept things really interesting with the bold colors and shooting style.
Kiah Roache-Turner: Thanks for saying that because that was precisely the kind of movie I didn’t want to make- I don’t personally enjoy films that have that kind of drabness to them because it feels like it’s missing some kind of energy. I love films that have a lot of color to them- Dawn of the Dead, Blade Runner or Apocalypse Now are just a few that come to mind- and so that’s why keeping the look of the film vibrant and using a lot of bold colors was important to me. I love that kind of visual intensity.
I think it’s pretty cool that this indie horror movie you guys made in Australia is getting all sorts of attention here in the States- has that been the most surprising part of this whole process for you?
Kiah Roache-Turner: Yeah, honestly I wasn’t sure just how much of the movie would get across to US audiences when we finished it. But then, we premiered at Fantastic Fest and the crowd went mental over it- it was amazing (laughs). Then, we screened it in Spain and those guys all loved it too. We even took it to Sweden- and even though they were a bit more ‘proper’ with their responses, the audience there dug it too. So everything has just been amazing- I thought this would be something we’d make on our own, end up releasing on YouTube and then I’d just go back to work (laughs).
I’m going to wrap this up by asking the obvious question but have you started thinking about a sequel to Wyrmwood at all, considering how everything wraps up? Or are you planning to take a little break from zombies for a bit?
Kiah Roache-Turner: This film is perfectly set-up for a sequel so it is something we’ve definitely considered already. We are pumped by the idea of doing more with this world and have a lot of great ideas where we follow Brooke to the middle of the desert and see her turn into this kind of dark Jedi-like character as she continues to try and survive in this world. It’s going to be pretty fun, I think.
That being said, Tristan and I are both kind of zombie’d out after four years of making and promoting Wyrmwood so the next thing we’re planning is this Stephen King-ish spin on a Ghostbusters-esque kind of project that we hope shakes things up in the paranormal universe of cinema.