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SLAYING IT BY THE BROOKE

Wyrmwood: Apocalypse (15)

Director: Kiah Roache-Turner
Screenplay: Kiah Roache-Turner, Tristan Roache-Turner

Starring: Luke McKenzie, Shantae Barnes-Cowan, Jake Ryan

Review: David Stephens

Who remembers Wyrmwood (aka: Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead)? That Australian indie was a low-budget take on the zombie genre, with a large dash of Mad Max. Set in the outback of the outback, it gradually became a cult favourite on the festival circuit, mainly due to the OTT gore, surreal sequences, and some original ideas. For instance, zombie breath makes for an ideal fuel source, being so toxic and flammable. Then there was the hybrid zombie who could apparently control "normal" zombies. Good fun despite a few shortcomings. It ended with survivors Barry (Jay Gallagher) and Brooke (Bianca Bradey) on the trail of the paramilitary group that had been experimenting on survivors and the undead for their own sick reasons. But that was back in 2014. Despite promises of a TV series (Chronicles of the Dead) for which a teaser was produced, nothing materialised… until 2020, when funding was secured for this sequel. Directed again by Kiah Roache-Turner, and co-written with brother Tristan, this features many of the cast from the first film returning… despite a couple of them actually dying during that. Anyway, W: A is now streaming on UK VOD platforms and available on DVD and Blu-Ray. So, it's a good opportunity to see how Oz handles the end of the world again.

 

It's probably worth mentioning that newcomers may be scratching their heads if they haven't seen the original film. There's no recap, bar some blink-and-miss-it flashbacks. It opens with hybrid zombie Brooke losing her humanity somewhat and biting a chunk out of one of her comrades, only becoming more reasonable after chugging some fresh blood. Meanwhile, solitary soldier Rhys (Luke McKenzie, playing the twin brother of the character he played in the first film!) is still naively cooperating with the paramilitary group in a fortified bunker. He believes that The Surgeon General (Nicholas Boshier) is close to making a permanent cure rather than the suppressant tablets he takes to keep the zombie virus at bay. As he encounters Maxi (Shantae Barnes-Cowan) and Grace (Tasia Zalar) it leads him to suspect that he may be on the wrong side … and guts will flow.

 

If you liked Wyrmwood, then you'll like this. It's more of the same essentially. It's hard to reconcile whether the refusal to make it a standalone effort is admirable or a bit limiting for those fresh to this Zombieland. Otherwise, it builds on some of the crazier and more original concepts of the original with some confidence. Cadavers are face-masked up, and their smoggy breath means that they become "batteries" for vehicles, generators, and weapons. Think of The Flintstones, but with a living corpse strapped to the back of a bike for "petrol", rather than a random dinosaur being used as a utensil or something. In addition to this is Bradey's Brooke, surely one of the best kick-ass undead femme fatales since Melinda Clarke in Return of the Living Dead 3. Her half-human rages and ability to "remote control" other zombies are cool to watch and make it more appealing as a low-budget horror with some ambition.

 

However, the narrative does drag its heels a little when Brooke and Barry are absent and Rhys isn't in active combat. A little more exploration of Brooke's superpower and a widening of the world around the sparse outdoor sets would have raised the stakes slightly, even if it stretched the budget. Otherwise, the plot is a simple A-to-B-Visit C- Blow up A affair that, whilst it's enjoyable and blood-spattered, it hardly stretches the genre or brain cells. A very hammy turn by Boshier is fun to watch as he dominates some scenes with his lack of empathy and drug-addled shenanigans ("Hello Toots! Do you mind if I crack open your skull and feast upon the juices inside?"). But, bar a stretched-out rescue mission and an odd "Soylent Green" backstory, there's admittedly not a lot of depth to the proceedings.

 

The first movie was described as a mix of Dawn of the Dead meets Mad Max, but to be honest, the splat-stick sequences and jittery camerawork have more of an air of Sam Raimi (circa Evil Dead 1980s) here rather than George Romero. Somebody obviously got a drone for Christmas, and some shots hitch a ride on the back of a bazooka shell before impact. It's solid low-budget gory entertainment, but you can't help wishing that there was a little more to it than that and that some of the more inventive ideas were taken further. At the end of the day, it's some car rolls in the brush and some blood-wallowing in custom-built sets. Still, whether it's a TV series or another sequel, the opportunity for a further expansion is left hanging. If it does happen, it would be nice to see some more urban settings and less of the Australian greenery. Explore the hybrids more and take the fight to the cities if the funding allows, and this could build into a groovy little franchise. Good, but a little more (rotting) meat to the plot would have been great. By the way, ever noticed just how many films with "Apocalypse" in the title don't actually have an apocalypse in the story? Resident Evil, Rec, Cannibal …, well, you get the idea…

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Fun, energetic, and gory romp that does take a little while to hit its stride. However, the minimal sets, story, and scenario don't make it stand out from other zombie fodder, especially if you haven't seen the first one. Despite that, it mostly roars along at a fair old pace, Brooke is a great anti-hero, and the "Evil Dead" freneticism and splat-stick are quite addictive.