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Entries in Post-apocalyptic (2)

Sunday
Feb082015

WYRMWOOD

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.

Rating: 4/5

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.

Monday
Nov102014

54 DAYS

Stars: Michela Carattini, Glenn Millanta, Greg Wilken, Michael Drysdale, John Michael Burdon, Matt James, Byron Sakha and Dianna La Grassa.
Writer/director: Tim Lea.

54 Days will have its Australian Premiere at the SciFi Film Festival on November 16. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Thoroughly deserving of a place in the canon of Australia’s ‘nuclear threat’ cinematic sub-genre, survivalist drama 54 Days spins its Twilight Zone-type scenario into an all-too-real study of desperation and despair. A slick exercise in close-quarters tension, it represents a solid calling-card effort for debutant helmer, Tim Lea, who exhibits an assured directorial hand.

The Oz sector has offered some idiosyncratic visions of a nuclear world order; notably, of course, the Hollywood-funded adaptation of Nevil Shute’s On the Beach and George Millers’s post-apocalyptic Mad Max trilogy, but also such fine works as Ian Barry’s The Chain Reaction (1980), Dennis O’Rourke’s 1985 documentary Half Life: A Parable for the Nuclear Age and Michael Pattinson’s thriller, Ground Zero (1987). With its enclosed dynamics and young person’s perspective, 54 Days most closely resembles John Duigan’s 1984 drama One Night Stand, which focussed on four teens locked inside the Sydney Opera House and contemplating their mortality as an inevitable atomic blast inches closer.

For Lea’s protagonists (first introduced in his short-film precursor to this feature), war descends upon them as a rooftop party is in full swing. The late 20-somethings, typically consumed with such minor woes as boyfriend troubles and getting richer, flee as a mushroom cloud (convincingly rendered by the effects team) envelops the horizon. Five make it to the building’s fully-outfitted bunker – Michelle (Michela Carattini), a party-girl in the thrall of a secret affair with strapping hero-type, Nick (Michael Drysdale); Michelle’s on-the-outer bf, Anthony (John Michael Burdon), already history in the eyes of Michelle’s bff, Liz (the striking Dianna La Grassa); and jittery Yank, Dirk (Greg Wilken).

As the realisation dawns that their resources will soon expire and that survival means the sacrifice of one of the group, tensions understandably run high. Each reacts in a way that reveals their true selves; some with grace and gravitas, others with a ruthless need to survive that proves shocking. A little harder to comprehend is one character’s descent into a madness that results in a friendship with a cockroach; the bug’s skilful conveying of emotion should surely earn a support billing mention. Casting aside certain elements that come with low-budget, first-time efforts and forgiving occasional asides that derail the tension, the narrative that emerges is a compelling one, the denouement particularly disturbing.

Special mention should be made of production designer Skye McLennan for the detail-rich bunker interior and DOP Nathaniel Jackson for superb use of shadow and spot lighting. One point sure to raise eyebrows is the production’s decision to identify the aggressors as ‘The Chinese’, a risky proposition given that very little back-story is provided into the international state-of-affairs that would prompt such an attack; detractors may point to this as an anachronistic nod to racial stereotyping in much the same way as the threat of a nuclear strike between advanced countries seems far less likely in 2014 than it did in 1985.