Thursday, June 18, 2015

Sinister Cinema: Wyrmwood

There is an ongoing fan debate whether zombies should be fast or slow. A recent Australian film manages to have it both ways. Its zombies are slow during the day, but fast at night. Why? During the day they exhale highly combustible zombie breath, but at night they retain it as super-charging zombie fuel. If you’re wondering how this works biologically, don’t ask me. I’m not the Mr. Wizard of zombies. Just accept it. After all, the zombie apocalypse survivors have to deal with it in Kiah & Tristan Roache-Turner’s Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (trailer here), which opens this weekend as part of Sinister Cinema at Cineplex Yonge & Dundas up north.

One night, most of the world just up and turned into zombies. Only those with the right blood type live to experience the horrors. For some reason, fossil fuels like gasoline also stopped igniting, making getaways even trickier. Brooke manages to phone her brother Barry to warn him, but alas, he still has to cap his beloved wife and child. The despondent Barry will take refuge with Benny, an easy-going Aboriginal dude, a resourceful old-timer named Frank, and another dude you shouldn’t get too attached to.

Despite the horrific circumstances of his bereavement, Barry is still in a better position than Brooke, who is kidnapped by a sadistic hazmat-suited emergency research team. As a result of the disco-crazed mad scientist’s experiments, Brooke gains telepathic control over zombiekind. Things look bad for her nonetheless, but Barry and his fox-hole partners will head out on the highway looking for her, once they figure out how to harness the power of zombie breath.

Wyrmwood has some truly wacky ideas, but that is a good thing. Arguably, their zombie physiology is truly innovative within the shuffling dead canon. However, the ridiculously cruel scientist and his paramilitary associates are a bit of a tired cliché. Aren’t movie people supposed to be “pro-science?” Yet, they constantly invite us to cheer for the Luddite troglodytes whenever they bash scientists’ big, arrogant brains in with a tire-iron.

Regardless, the zombie mayhem is executed with high energy and the survivors’ bickering rapport somehow lures viewers into an emotional investment. The hat-tipping to the Mad Max and Living Dead franchises is also wryly amusing. Even though she has the more problematic narrative arc, Bianca Bradey is poised for geek superstardom with an outside chance of mainstream breakout potential after her action-oriented, screen-commanding turn as Brooke. She is nobody’s victim, that’s for sure.

Shot over several years, Wyrmwood is the sort of scrappy micro-budget underdog you have to root for. Suitably gory and just tongue-in-cheek enough to lighten the post-apocalyptic mood without getting excessive goofy, it serves up the sort of red meat fans crave. A heck of a calling card, it should be the start of something big for the Roache-Turner Brothers. Recommended for Zombie fans, Wyrmwood opens tomorrow (6/19) as a Sinister Cinema presentation at Cineplex Yonge & Dundas.