Wyrmwood Apocalypse had its UK première at the Glasgow FrightFest 2022
In 2014, director Kiah Roache-Turner and his co-writing/co-producing brother Tristan gave the world their feature debut Wyrmwood. It was a calling card for what has since – in their follow-up Nekrotronic (2018) and now their formal sequel Wyrmwood Apocalypse – become a signature style: an amped-up, genre-happy, pedal-to-the-metal, high-octane, excess-embracing mutant hybrid of dystopian sci fi, action and horror. Wyrmwood took an overfamiliar post-apocalyptic zombie scenario, and then repeatedly defamiliarised it by throwing in mad scientists, fascist military, beer-guzzling survivalists, Road Warrior-style chases (literally fuelled by the exhalations of the undead), all unfolding – like the Spierig brothers’ Undead (2003) and Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke’s Cargo (2017) – in the picturesque Aussie outback (with plenty of blood on the wattle). It was en energetic genre joy, no-nonsense and yet all nonsense – and Wyrmwood Apocalypse definitely reprises that spirit (and picks up the pace).
Wyrmwood Apocalypse begins breathlessly in medias res, with the hybrid zombie Brooke (Bianca Bradey) beating a soldier bloodily to death and, in a frenzy, biting her own ally Grace (Tasia Zalar) before being placated by her brother Barry (Jay Gallagher) with a phial of blood. This is also more or less exactly the moment where the last film ended – and if that close chronological proximity of sequel to original recalls Evil Dead II (1987), then Wyrmwood Apocalypse also borrows from Sam Raimi’s horror comedy classic scenes of a man having to fight his own autonomous hand. This character is The Doctor (Goran D. Kleut), a cruel, craven Mengele figure whose supposed pursuit of a cure for the zombie condition is in fact entirely self-serving. Despite his Hippocratic oath and professions of care, the Doctor will quickly turn out to be as slippery and compromised as his military protector The Colonel (Jake Ryan).
In keeping with the Roache-Turner partnership that makes these films, siblings abound in Wyrmwood Apocalypse. There are the previous film’s protagonists Brooke and Barry, now branded ‘terrorists’ as they use ‘freak’ Brooke’s powers to control other zombies telepathically in their struggle to bring down the medico-military organisation that ended Brooke’s humanity. There is Grace, now herself a hybrid, and her equally kickass sister Maxi (Shintae Barnes-Cowan) – nieces to the now dead Benny from Wyrmwood. And then there is new character Rhys, twin brother to the original’s antagonist The Captain (indeed played by the same actor, Luke McKenzie), killed by Brooke.
Self-sufficient soldier Rhys uses his customised armoured car ‘War Pig’ to hunt down both the living and the dead for use by the Doctor’s underground science unit, in exchange for the mysterious yellow pills that are keeping him from infection. Yet if this makes Rhys seem rather like his late brother, he is also deeply conflicted – and after capturing Grace and handing her over to the Doctor, he begins to wonder if he is working for the right side, and whether the Doctor’s experiments are as humane and benign as is claimed. This leads to a Christ-like ordeal and a Damascene conversion, as Rhys joins Brooke, Barry and Maxi in a mission to recover Grace before it is too late.
Here the men are absurdly posturing in their muscle and machismo – but repeatedly outwitted and outpunched by the women. Here the ‘regular’ gas-breathing zombies are outclassed by various upgrades, including mind-controlled suicide-bombing zombies, super-powered human zombies and even an undead puppet mecha monster with a crab-like metal pincer for an arm. Here morality is mixed, here mortal enemies become self-sacrificing friends, and here all are running on empty and desperate to survive. Roache-Turner crams every frame with military hardware, medical perversion and undead armageddon, while generously bespattering the whole picture with a cartoonishly crazy sensibility. The storytelling may be spare, but this is mad, maximalist midnight movie-making – unburdened by subtext, unashamed of its own dopiness and always going right for the balls.
strap: Kiah Roache-Turner’s zombie sequel is a fuel-injected, braindead outback actioner, mad on its own maximalism.
© Anton Bitel
Wyrmwood: Apocalypse will get its home ent. release from 101 Films in May 2022