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“WYRMWOOD” (Toronto After Dark Review)

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Despite a bleak, bleak, bleak opening sequence—the line “This morning I shot my wife and child with a nail gun” is spoken less than five minutes into the film and we are not spared the gory flashback details—in fairly short order the Australian zombie adventure WYRMWOOD takes a sharp left into deliciously wild, ridiculously hepped-up pastures, exuding a sinister buoyancy and spirit that resembles less a sui generis stand alone film than, say, the second or third entry in a franchise wherein filmmakers striving for freshness are willing (forced?) to indulge the more absurdist, outlandish elements of the horror palette—think BEYOND THUNDERDOME meets DREAM WARRIORS meets DEAD BY DAWN not MAD MAX meets NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET meets EVIL DEAD. 

Now, none of this to suggest WYRMWOOD skimps on the horror: The film is actually full of blunt scares, unsettling imagery, and WALKING DEAD-esque They’re closing in on us! tension, executed with admirable verve and precision. But it is all situated amidst a hyper-stylized world that frequently flirts with—and at times out and out surrenders to—unabashed surrealism.

And this is a very, very good thing, friends, because it allows WYRMWOOD to eclipse its own hackneyed premise—i.e. a series of bizarre lights in the sky sets off a zombie apocalypse forcing a ragtag band of strangers to come together in an unlikely alliance in order to survive.

Even accounting for our hero Barry’s aforementioned probably-not-OSHA approved use of a nailgun and his quest to find his kidnapped sister, that’s still a bit yawn-inducing, no?

But add to the mix a surprisingly funky, KC and the Sunshine Band-loving mad scientist; undead-bullying telekinesis á la FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII; a novel spin on what constitutes an alternative fuel source; oodles of homemade contraptions straight out of the most batshit episode of DOOMSDAY PREPPERS; a crew of characters—shall wonders never cease!—actually differentiable from one another, and a narrative velocity that rivals a bullet train?

Well, suddenly that yawn is a gape tiptoeing perilously close to a scream.

For those dead tired of the undead, perhaps none of this will prove enough to make up for the film’s many concessions to convention. It’s been several years of market saturation and those of us who trawl the direct-to-DVD waters for hidden gems feel your pain.

Ultimately, however, brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner—WYRMWOOD’s writer-director and writer-producer, respectively—deserve credit for re-instilling vivacity into the sometimes not-so-living dead in ways casual fans who still possess an open mind towards the evolutionary potential of the subgenre will no doubt appreciate.

As for the hardcore zombie freaks and fanatics? Congrats, kids. You’ve just stumbled upon your favorite film of 2014.

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About the author
Shawn Macomber http://www.stopshawnmacomber.com
The ravings of noted South Florida pug wrangler Shawn Macomber have appeared in Decibel, Magnet, Reason, Maxim, Radar, Shroud, and the Wall Street Journal, amongst other fine and middling publications. He also hosts the podcast Into the Depths and pens the metal-lit column Tales From the Metalnomicon for Decibel magazine.
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