Stars: Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradley, Leon Burchill, Luke McKenzie, Yure Covich, Keith Agius, Catherine Terracini and Meganne West.
Writers: Kiah Roache-Turner and Tristan Roache-Turner
Director: Kiah Roache-Turner.
Feverish fan-boy fanaticism meets film-making fearlessness in the undead ocker shocker, Wyrmwood. Brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner channel their clearly compulsive love for B-movie bloodletting into a debut work that honours the ‘Gore Gods’ of yore as efficiently as it announces the arrival of their own brand of genre genius.
Like death-metal music for the eyes, The Roache-Turner’s bludgeon their audience with a visual and aural onslaught that leaves no skull unexploded in their depiction of a hell-on-earth that is the new Australia. Bold enough to draw upon that hoary old horror trope ‘the meteor shower’ as the narrative kicker, the debutant filmmakers (Kiah gets sole directing honours; both take a writing credit) embark upon a slight but superbly entertaining survival story that pits everyman hero Barry (Jay Gallagher), his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradley, in a ballsy, up-for-anything performance) and new mate Benny (scene-stealer Leon Burchill) against a sunburnt nation of flesh cravers.
Horror-hounds will find the Roache-Turner’s gleeful cinematic nightmare pleasingly familiar. The most influential works are certainly Peter Jackson’s Braindead (aka Dead Alive, 1992), which featured the steely blue and rich crimson colour palette embraced by DOP Tim Nagle; Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness (1992), with its ultra-quick zooms, rapid-fire editing; and, Dr George Miller’s Mad Max (1979), with its ‘vengeful, grieving father’ anti-hero and mastery of open-road car-on-car action. Nods to Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake (2004) and fellow Aussie sibling-auteurs Michael and Peter Spierig’s Undead (2003) are also present.
But instead of a repackaged homage to their teen year favourites, The Roache-Turners afford Wyrmwood its own strong sense of self-worth. One character’s telepathic connection to the zombie hordes proves crucial to the narrative’s effectiveness; the implication that zombie by-products may be the newest renewable energy is a sly masterstroke; and, a revelation (however tenuously defined) that a universal blood type unites the survivors hints at a hopeful outcome for humanity.
Less assured is the establishment of the film’s real-world villains. The zombies terrify on a visceral level, but the vile antics of a disco-dancing, psychopathic scientist (Berryn Schwerdt) charged with assimilating zombie spinal fluid and Brooke’s human blood don’t sufficiently set up the level of conflict required to ensure a convincing third act face-off with a monologue-ing military jerk (Luke McKenzie). Some perfunctory fisticuffs rob the zombies and the audience of the apocalyptic-size melee expected (such as that delivered by Raimi in his third and epic Evil Dead film); it is the only instance where the meagre budget (an astonishing A$150,000) may have handicapped the auteur’s ambition.
Irrespective of its shortcomings, Wyrmwood will prove a horror festival staple for the rest of 2015 and a boys-own party favourite well into its home entertainment afterlife. As spelt out by blokish bushman Frank (a terrific Keith Agius) in one of the film’s rare quiet moments, the Book of Revelations told of the fallen star ‘Wormwood,’ sent plummeting to Earth by the trumpet cry of an angel, decimating all but those God left to determine their own destinies. For all its grotesque hellishness, Wyrmwood is similarly heaven-sent.
Wyrmwood will open the Perth Underground Film Festival on February 12; tickets available here.