Even though the Toronto After Dark’s Zombie Appreciation Night had passed well, let’s face, since when does a zombie ever pass away short of a bullet to the head? It’s only fitting that there was one undead straggler, one more zombie film that survived the culling and threatened to spread the infection anew at the Toronto After Dark 2014’s Post-Apocalyptic Night in the form of Wyrmwood.
This is the first full-length feature of director Kiah Roache-Turner and his brother, the film’s writer, Tristan Roache-Turner and they have characterized it as something of a mix between Dawn of the Dead and Mad Max. Furthermore, Kiah Roache-Turner refers to Wyrmwood‘s genre as zombie post-apocalyptic science fiction.
It’s an apt description for the most part, but I’d like to take it even further. Imagine a zombie film drunk on a pint or more of absinthe, the traditional green fairy drink made with — fittingly enough — some wormwood, having read one part of Revelations before bed, and possessing a distorted sense of physics and ludicrously sublime perspective of time, narrative, and shots of black comedy: with a literally murderous hangover at the end when it realizes that it’s missing some body parts from its mayhem of fun.
For me, that’s Wyrmwood in a shotgun shell. If the film narrative sensibility of Wyrmwood were a zombie infection, you could trace its spiritual points of origin from the early film shorts directed by Kiah Roache-Turner: Roadrunner and Wargames. Roadrunner contains technology that doesn’t work at the worst time and seemingly arbitrary yet fitting plot developments while Wargames has the element of a protagonist dealing with renegade soldiers. Both of these shorts have violence for punchlines and the same actor playing both protagonists and one of the central characters in Wyrmwood: Jay Gallagher.
The premise of Wyrmwood is that there is a meteor shower and people begin to get infected by a disease that, well, reanimates them. The film actually starts with the main characters killing a mass of zombies while decked out in customized makeshift armour and toting guns. It really caught my eye as I generally watch movies and read books where the military can’t handle zombies or civilians have to survive them.
Then we got into something that was almost an interview section between two characters that describe something of their lives before the outbreak and what happened. I was expecting big things from this: wondering if this movie was going to be a goofy version of what World War Z should have been: if only as something of a parody of an “oral history” from Max Brooks’ novel more than the Hollywood version of it. But even though that did not happen, there is something both banally comic and horribly tragic about these accounts: especially from the perspective of Gallagher’s character Barry.
And somehow the physics of the world changed as well: and it never gets elaborated on except for how the characters actually deal with it. I’ll tell you now: it has to do with the Roache-Turner breed of zombies. Think of some bright-eyed revenants that supposedly move more slowly in the day and lightning fast at night that contain methane that can be used as fuel sources. That’s right: in a world where electricity and gasoline no longer seem to work, you can always fuel your transportation technology by hooking it up to some zombies. But this only works during the day as, apparently, it’s the only time they breathe methane. You can thank Tristan Roache-Turner’s screenwriting idea for that one.
I will mention that sometimes the rules for these new zombies are a little inconsistent, as they slow down or speed up depending on the plot, but I definitely appreciated the fact that this was a film where zombies weren’t just a threat, but they could also be used as weapons and obstacles against rival and enemy humans. We never know if the soldier antagonists the band run into are collecting people to experiment on in order to find a zombie cure, or to harness the natural energy sources of the zombie, to even somehow gain control over the mass of undead or, really, because they are just plain dicks.
But I have to admit: there is an element of Re-Animator developing throughout the film and especially towards the end that, as someone who liked to play as necromancers in D&D when I was younger, I found entertaining to watch. And if that isn’t enough for you: you do get to see an asshole of a soldier become a warm-cooked meal for the hungrily living impaired.
So there you go. Wyrmwood is some dark slapstick slaughter that veers from the ridiculous to the dead fucking serious and its zombies and characters are, if nothing else, some good entertainment fuel.