Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead

Ever ask yourself what you’d do in the event of the zombie apocalypse? Specifically, of the Antipodean variety?

Whilst relatively densely populated up and down the east coast, our interior is vast and spare, allowing for a whole range of variations on the traditional undead overthrow scenario.

Being a transplanted Bush Kid, I’ve entertained the odd doomsday contingency planning session in my time, usually over a Beam and Coke (long since abandoned as a go-to tipple, trust me). Raised on Mad Max, surrounded by hard bastards working and surviving — sans complaint — in inhospitable climes, we’re occasionally guilty of indulging in the grand narrative of the catastrophic event and our subsequent, man-with-no-name style flight to the interior and rough, hard scrabble post-calamity existence.

Just ask someone from out there what their contingency plan is — you’d be best to follow our lead when the shit goes down. It’s like our formative years were inadvertent post-apocalypse survival boot camps.

Consider:

* Our innate mastery of automotive technology (AKA can drive a manual, thus giving us the advantage, acceleration-wise, when evading cannibal hordes). Can also change a tyre.

* There are no RACVs in the Wasteland.

* Bushcraft: veterans of guerrilla skirmishes from kindergarten onwards, who better to hit up for a set of elements-defying handmade leather togs and a stabbing device made out of a rusty fan blade and a cricket bat?

* Practical: loads of boilermakers and tradies to retro-fit the family sedan into a brutally efficient walker-mashing juggernaut.

* Naturally acclimatised to the parched realities of life on the land. Take heed, any fey city dwellers we see fit to extract from the shitstorm: whinging about the heat will see you swiftly relegated to rear-guard zombie bait. (I mean, seriously, four days of plus-40 temperatures have floored you? Piss weak. But I digress.)

We really are just harder and better, when it comes right down to it.

Image credit: Wyrmwood

Which brings us to Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead.

This Screen Australia production, primed for release in 2014, holds the dubious distinction of being one of the most heavily downloaded Aussie productions in recent memory.

Produced and directed by Sydney’s Roache-Turner brothers (shades of Undead’s Spierig siblings), Wyrmwood is a nasty splatter-fest that explodes out of the gates in fountains of grue, the writing/producing/directing duo wearing their influences on brain-caked sleeves.

The plot, as is the case in most undead flicks, is perfunctory: mysterious cosmic events turn everything to shit/a ragtag collection of survivors attempt to eke out an existence in their hellish new environs/things get exponentially worse. That being said, I’ll spare you heavy plot details, because the joy of Wyrmwood is in its ruthless pace, inventive structure, and penchant for grim surprises.

Jay Gallagher (War Games) stars as stoic mechanic and family bloke Barry. Barry’s sister, Brooke (Bianca Bradey) is a bit of a tearaway (tatts and Day of the Dead photoshoots, yo).

Image credit: Wyrmwood

One night, things get really bad for the siblings really quickly: in rapid succession, Barry ends up on the road — sans wife and daughter — with sweary, zombie topping vet Benny (Leon Burchill), and Brooke is abducted by shady military types led by Mengele-inspired crackpot The Doc (Berynn Schwerdt), whose lab is chockers with undead experiments and lit like a Smashmouth video.

To tell you much more would be to do both you and Wyrmwood a huge disservice. Its pleasures lies in an inventive approach to the genre and affable, scruffy collection of unvarnished characters.

Wyrmwood trafficks in some ingenious zombie lore embroidery, and the inclusion of Benny’s indigenous spirituality is a welcome detail.

There’s deep vein of bloody-minded Aussie ingenuity at the heart of proceedings, too. Barry’s road warrior crew are, to a man, tradies, sparkies, mechanics and boilermakers — there’s a heady whiff of ozone and engine oil in this paean to self reliance and practicality, what with all the vehicular modification and customisation.

Image credit: Wyrmwood

Then, of course, there’s the iconic (yet pragmatic) deployment of tools themselves: nail guns, chisels, hammers, pretty much whatever’s handy, end up embedded in reanimated grey matter.

These flinty working class blokes, foul-mouthed but otherwise taciturn, bush-bash in the literal sense, blowing Js, slaughtering teeming hordes and, let’s admit it, not really having much of a plan beyond sheer, bloody-minded continuation of existence.

Wyrmwood may be a bit saggy in the arse end, its arch-bastard poorly sketched, and its digital kills surely pull you out of the action on occasion, but those are minor quibbles. When your debut feature is as spirited a riff on Peter Jackson’s slapstick grue, Sam Raimi’s histrionic camera and George Miller’s nitro-punk aesthetic, you’re onto a pretty fucking good thing.

Breathlessly entertaining, refreshingly inventive and a promising harbinger of things to come from these lads: you know what to do.

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is out on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD and all that now (be a sweetheart and pay for it).

And there’s a sequel in the works.

Originally published at www.hopscotchfriday.com.