Wyrmwood isn’t a bad start, really. Working only on weekends, Australian brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner spent over four years shooting their debut feature – a zombie splatter-fest set in the bush – and in that time, multiple re-casts and script changes inevitably took place. While the widely noted central influences of Mad Max 2: Road Warrior and George Romero’s Dead series consist throughout, the apparently constant updating of the script has created a certain unevenness that deeply troubles the movie.
Initially, the action sequences make impressive use of space, and the violence is stylishly choreographed through agile, roving takes that make the film feel alive and invigorating. It launches straight into battle with a zombie horde, and exposition is only ever told through blood-soaked flashbacks. Until at least the halfway point, Wyrmwood is explosive fun, and works well as a no-budget horror flick that takes itself only as seriously as it has to. With its rage-filled zombies and manic depressive tone, it is as 28 Days Later as it is Shaun of the Dead and, for a while at least, manages to keep a decent balance between these two locus points.
Somewhere along the way, however, it becomes lost. After several trunk shots and randomly exploding heads, a misguided Tarantino influence becomes increasingly apparent, and as Wyrmwood‘s central characters embark upon a road trip in an armoured truck Mad Max would die for, their interplay becomes more and more grating. Bad language only generally bothers the prudish type, but hearing the word “fuck” bellowed in every sentence is mildly exhausting, as is the propensity for spouting pseudo-badass one-liners at any given opportunity. Shots become quicker and less interesting, and while the film remains largely entertaining, it is begrudgingly so, as way too much of the dialogue around the mid-point is cringe-worthy.
One of the storylines follows a group of hard-nuts, clad in the greatest armour you can find in Fallout 3 and with a plan to rescue Brooke, sister of protagonist Barry. In the other storyline, however, Brooke has been kidnapped by the military, and is being experimented upon by some doctor who is equal parts Heisenberg and Re-Animator, and nowhere near as cool as either. He dances to KC & the Sunshine Band while committing acts of torture (to the audience more than anything), and speaks in a well-orated fashion which references many iconic bad-guy performances without really having much of a chance of becoming one. This character is easily the worst part of an otherwise decent movie, and exemplifies all the try-hard moments unfortunately evident in the debut work of these fledgling filmmakers.
Nevertheless, one survivor of the movie’s lengthy production period is the sheer energy that the cast and crew have injected into this thing. It never manages to become truly refreshing, but remains playfully inventive by applying several of its own touches to the well-worn zombie genre. At many points, it is unabashed, kitschy fun that is best experienced with the brain switched off, and hopefully with more focus in future projects, the Roache-Taylor brothers could one day create something good. Director Kiah certainly seems enthusiastic and self-aware in interviews, and Wyrmwood suggests he is someone who enjoys riffing on established conventions more than purely referencing them; if that proves to be the case, then more power to him.