In general, I haven't been a big fan of zombie movies over the last five years. It may be related to how zombie-crazy pop culture has gotten as of late, but I rarely get enthused these days over the prospect of watching the undead munch their way through yet another 90 minutes of my time. But then a movie like Wyrmwood comes along and completely proves me wrong. This Australian zombie romp is as gory as it is fiercely hilarious, managing to find some clever new twists to the ever-popular subgenre.
Wyrmwood was entitled after a passage in the Book of Revelations that prophesized the end of days after “ a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky and turned the water bitter.” It’s a biblical allegory that fits perfectly here as the outbreak of the zombie pandemic is caused by a passing comet one night; people begin transforming almost instantaneously and without warning, the cosmic incident causes a chaotic chain of events that brings together several of the film’s heroes including Barry (Jay Gallagher) and Benny (Leon Burchill) who set out to rescue Barry’ sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) after she’s been kidnapped by a militant group performing experiments on the undead.
While they make their way through the countryside, dispensing of zombies as they go, the duo uncover that they have more to fear than the undead as they realize their human enemies are much deadlier than the undead hordes that have taken over the world and that the zombies have a surprising usefulness they could have never expected as well.
As far as debut features go, writer/director Kiah Roache-Turner has done some truly impressive things with Wyrmwood- it’s a playful and intelligent splat-fest that finds clever ways of mixing things up with zombie mythology all while staying faithful to certain conventions that have made flesh eaters iconic monsters within the horror genre over the years. Roache-Turner also demonstrates a keen eye for creating striking and unforgettable visuals, forgoing the usual monotone ‘end of the world’ palette for a look that’s vibrant and stunningly bold, and my proverbial hat is off to cinematographer Tim Nagle whose camera work perfectly captures the often surrealistic action and violence unfolding throughout Wyrmwood.
The performances in Wyrmwood are all top-notch across the board; Gallagher, whose character has to find his purpose in this new world after having to kill both his wife and child due to them becoming infected, incorporates a soulful, world-weariness to Barry without ever making the guy feel like a sad sack. Burchill is hilarious and likeable as he provides much of the film’s comedic relief and Bradey’s work as the ballsy and determined Brooke is a total revelation. If there ever happens to be a sequel to Wyrmwood, I hope Brooke’s character becomes a bigger focus because she’s such a badass here.
The special effects and costume/creature designs are also worth mentioning because all the work we see in Wyrmwood is rather remarkable. Very little VFX is used (yay!) and the film features tons of gooey and gruesome practical gags that should leave gorehounds extremely happy.
As a whole, Wyrmwood is the kind of film that gives me hope for the zombie subgenre- it’s clever, hellaciously entertaining and masterfully executed by Roache-Turner, who shows us that you can still find new and exciting ways to fight zombies. Wyrmwood opens in select theaters this weekend and I cannot recommend it enough- it’s absolutely one of the best zombie films I’ve seen in years and a stunning debut from its director.
Movie Score: 4/5