The ratio of gnarly infections and guts-splaying mayhem per screen minute is an important metric for zombie movies. While I am yet to analyse the data in a scientifically sound way, I can confidently declare that, on these merits, Wyrmwood: Apocalypse is a resounding success. The film is a perversely colourful, visually energetic and proudly splatterific sequel to its 2015 predecessor, a lean and mean midnight movie that, while stuffed with familiar genre elements, had a couple of rare or rare-ish distinguishing features.
The first is simply that it was an Australian zombie movie. There have been few others, including Cargo, which saw a freshly bitten Martin Freeman stumbling around the Australian outback, desperately looking to find somebody to care for his baby before he turned into a flesh-muncher. And the 2003 film Undead included perhaps the funniest line ever spoken in a zombie film: “When I was a kid we respected our parents, we didn’t fuckin’ eat them!”
The second rare element in Wyrmwood was more about how it was created, rather than the film itself. It arrived with an inspiring behind-the-scenes story of go-for-broke young artists and siblings Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner, who self-financed the production and shot it on weekends. The film eventually found an audience – including many people who pirated it online (a bit of a mixed blessing). Now we have a sequel, which has a bigger budget, more impressive inventions, better sets and bad-arse vehicles that continue a long line of bizarro Australian movie cars à la The Cars that Ate Paris and Mad Max.
Wyrmwood: Apocalypse throws us headfirst into the action, with gnarly, blood-red opening credits accompanied by a variety of awful sounds. Rhys (Luke McKenzie) – the twin of a character who died in the first movie – emerges from a ramshackle hideout, surrounded by the undead, many of whom he has imprisoned to use as lab rats, pets and even a boxing sparring partner. He is clearly a self-sufficient loner, until he must grudgingly team up with others to rescue a half-human, half-zombie Indigenous girl, Grace (Tasia Zalar).
Rhys had delivered Grace to the wicked “Surgeon General” (Nicholas Boshier), who he believes is working on a cure to the virus. But Grace’s sister Maxi (Shantae Barnes Cowan) throws cold water on Rhys’s assumption that the people he’s mingling with – despite looking as evil as they come – are working for the betterment of (an admittedly pulverised) society.
The Roache-Turners (with Kiah directing, writing and editing, and Tristan writing and producing) wear their genre influences on their sleeves and seem almost proud of their film’s unoriginality. There are bitumen-licking Mad Maxian road shots and laboratory scenes informed by Romero’s Day of the Dead, among others. In the latter scenes, Boshier (whose work in front and behind the camera includes Bondi Hipsters and Beached Az) carves it up as the scene-stealing Surgeon General, bringing manic, eye-bulging intensity to his mad scientist character, with enjoyably crazy results. One especially entertaining scene involves this evil bastard donning a VR-esque device that allows him to operate an undead body remotely.
McKenzie delivers the kind of lead performance that doesn’t tend to get many plaudits – mostly because we’ve seen this character so many times before – but he brings a commanding presence. As does Barnes Cowan, delivering a kick-arse performance as Maxi: tough, gritty and zero tolerance for bullshit. Maxi and Grace would make good choices for the subjects of a spin-off movie.
Kiah Roache-Turner keeps the camera moving and the cuts regular, setting a cracking energy that’s particularly important for midnight movies like this, concerned more with relishing carnage than telling a story. What matters most in Ozploitation films, of which this production is a spiritual descendent, is atmosphere and energy: watching them feels like sticking your head out the window of a fast-moving car. Film-makers find a true sweet spot when combining this feel with a great narrative – which Wyrmwood: Apocalypse doesn’t have, though it’s a bit of fun nonetheless.