Barry (Jay Gallagher), a mechanic and a family man, sees his life fall apart after a global disaster triggers a zombie apocalypse. When his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) is kidnapped by sinister gas mask-wearing soldiers, Barry sets out to find her. With the help of fellow survivors, he navigates the harsh Australian bush, searching for a sanctuary while battling hordes of flesh-eating monsters.
There’s an exciting new genre film on the horizon, a propulsive Australian action-adventure set in a confused, dystopian, post-apocalyptic near future where hideously deformed bad guys terrorise a band of right-minded—well, less bad, anyway—survivors trying in vain to escape with their sanity and their lives.
Oh, and George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road comes out this winter as well.
For now, genre fans will rejoice at Wyrmwood, which chucks a fresh spin on zombies into that logline and stands as the single most kinetic, over-the-top and refreshingly low-budget (in spirit, if not execution) horror exercise in recent Australian industry memory.
A comet has disintegrated over the earth. In its wake, an unknown disease turns humans into methane-spewing zombies, traditional fuel sources no longer function, and an over-eager military just rounds them all up and lets the sadistic, funk-loving Doctor (Berynn Schwerdt) sort them out by running ghastly experiments on the dead and undead alike.
It is against this chaotic backdrop that an unlikely band of men embark on a mission. Affable mechanic and family man Barry (Jay Gallagher, channelling Evil Dead-era Bruce Campbell) is traumatised when he must shoot his infected wife and young daughter with a nail gun. He soon falls in with cheerful Blackfella Benny (Leon Burchill), grizzled ex-biker Frank (Keith Agius) and Frank’s offsider, Kelly (Cain Thompson).
They’re off in search of Barry’s sister, Brooke (Bianca Bradey), who has survived a zombie invasion of her back-shed-cum-photography-studio (amongst the film’s many exhilaratingly shot and edited set-pieces) only to find herself shackled and surrounded by bound zombies in the Doctor’s cramped lab. His bizarre experiments on her result in a certain telepathy with the undead, which will of course come in handy down the road.
Once Brooke and Barry’s band unite, all hell breaks loose. Which is something, considering what’s come before. They rig up a truck that’s powered by methane pulled straight from the “live” zombies’ mouths and make a dash through the dense bush in search of sanctuary.
Wyrmwood is the work of Sydney-based brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner, the latter writing and directing whilst the former co-wrote, produced and wrangled the impressively bespoke production design on locations in the Blue Mountains, Oberon and Newcastle. Up-front in their referencing of Miller, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films and George Romero, they temper their fanboy enthusiasms with a genuinely imaginative and impressive approach to a clutch of genres dangerously close to saturation.
If the howlingly funny press packet is to be believed, Wyrmwood was shot on weekends over three years and in post-production for another year at a grand total cost of a $150,000 (partly crowdfunded and with much free labour from dedicated and talented crew). It also goes into great detail about the costuming and props, many of which—including the “Zombie Truck,” were purchased on eBay and modified by the Roaches and their mates (all of whom, inevitably, play zombies—some more than one).
Genre appreciation aside, it is difficult to resist the enthusiasm, creativity and inventiveness exhibited in the finished product. Would that more, how to put it, traditionally funded Australian films had this kind of energy and vision. Not surprisingly, Wyrmwood has received enthusiastic responses from festival audiences in the United States, Canada, Sweden, South Korea, Argentina and Spain. Here’s hoping the boys will get another film on track soon.
Memo to George Miller: watch your back, Ozploitation is back from the dead.
SBS VICELAND, Wednesday July 5, 8.30pm
Available afterwards at SBS On Demand