Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014)
Directed by Kiah Roache-Turner
Written by Tristan Roache-Turner and Kiah Roache-Turner
Starring Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradey, and Leon Burchill
When I was a teen, I saw Return of the Living Dead and Re-Animator so closely together that I honestly don’t recall which was the first zombie movie I’d ever seen. They were the first two, however, and they set me up for a lifetime of disappointment in zombie films. The genre is so regularly terrible that there are people who, with a straight face, claim to like Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, a film with 10 minutes of fun that comes after a full hour of sheer tedium. This is how low the bar is set.
So imagine how hard my jaw hit the floor when five minutes into Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead I realized that I was actually having a great time watching it! The feelings of surprise and delight continued throughout the film, despite the inevitable deaths of beloved side characters. It is a zombie movie after all; it’s a minor miracle if anybody lives.
The film takes its name from the Book of Revelation. There, it is the name of a star that falls to Earth, polluting a third of the potable water. In the movie — well, it’s a biblical quote that says the star will bring a disease that kills “a fuckload of people”. The pollutants introduced into the air by meteorites turn everyone into zombies. Everyone without a gas mask or A- blood, that is. This is a deadly blow to the human race, as populations range from only 0.2-8% with that blood type. As far as zombie infection causes go, it’s certainly novel. It’s also easy to mention, drop, and move past, which is critical for this kind of romp. Less talk, more fun please.
The beginning is a bit of a jumble. It starts with an action sequence, then goes to Benny’s flashback, before going back to Barry’s flashback. Except it isn’t all really Barry’s flashback, as there are scenes of his sister Brooke intermixed. These siblings are the focus of the movie, as the plot largely centers on them trying to reunite. One of the many joys in Wyrmwood is that the other characters aren’t just there to fill dead space. There’s a lot of personality on the sidelines, which keeps the journey lively and makes for some genuine sense of loss as they fall to zombies, researchers, and sheer idiocy.
Did I say “researchers”? There’s only one that we see, but he’s a doozy. Think of Dr. Logan from Day of the Dead, only gleefully sadistic. His aim is to find out how to make everyone immune, which means sacrificing as many survivors as it takes. This requires people to procure test subjects, and this justifies the hunting squads that both clean out zombies and capture healthy people. After all, survivors are a rare commodity.
A lot of these plot beats are typical, or close to it. What separates Wyrmwood lies in the details. The zombies are stronger by night, which lets the film have both fast and slow zombies. This has to do with the gas that their bodies generate. By day they emit it, but at night it fuels them. There’s some business about zombie blood being the only liquid that burns now, which makes for zero sense but is fun. Then there’s — well, I won’t spoil it except to say that Brooke’s story arc is neat enough to offset the unpleasantness of her being in bondage for most of the film.
If it seems as though I have mixed feelings about this movie, it’s certainly the truth. There are plot threads that are left dangling, the speed with which the research team starts in is nearly preternatural (the whole movie takes place over the first two days of the infection), and the lack of official response (outside of possibly the 5 member research team) feels like an oversight. In the end, the combination of originality and joie de vie lifts it above problems like logic and narrative structure. It’s not going to replace my two genre favorites, but its severed heads and spilled guts place it above the ordinary, gruesome fare.