Back in 2015, Australian director Kiah Roache-Turner unleashed one of the wildest zombie movies in years with Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead…
…Now, Roache-Turner is back with a rip-roaring sequel that will satisfy bloodthirsty fans of the original.
Once again written by Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner, Wyrmwood: Apocalypse picks up around where the first film left off, with Barry (Jay Gallagher) and hybrid zombie Brooke (Bianca Bradey) on the run after a split with Maxi (Shantae Barnes-Cowan) and her sister, Grace (Tasia Zalar). Meanwhile, Rhys (with Luke McKenzie playing the twin brother of his Road of the Dead character), collects zombies—and people—to bring to The Colonel (Jake Ryan) and a mad surgeon (Nicholas Boshier) in hopes of finding a cure. But when Rhys discovers what’s really going on at the lab, he must make a decision: Turn on his employers, or team up with the man who killed his brother to bring them down.
You can probably guess where that’s going, but with Wyrmwood: Apocalypse, it’s not about the destination, but the entertaining as hell ride to get there.
After a re-introduction to our main characters from Road of the Dead, we meet Rhys, who gives us a pretty good idea of what life is like in the zombie apocalypse: Miserable. Set to the tune of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand”—props on the music choice—Rhys takes viewers through a monotonous morning routine of working out and eating greasy food from pots and pans that haven’t been cleaned probably ever before slipping on a gas mask and casually popping out of his dirty trailer to meet a small horde of gas-breathing zombies. It’s just another normal day for Rhys, who has built himself a tiny though fortified compound where he has zombies tied to bikes powering the place and spends his free time boxing the lumbering ghouls.
Apocalypse carries over the infectious sense of humor from the original to give fans a zombie movie that’ll split your guts. Mad doctors that are never not covered in blood…Super zombies brought to life with eye-popping practical effects…A quirky score from Michael Lira…Wyrmwood: Apocalypse is like a live-action cartoon made for adults. Those who enjoy a little camp in their horror are given a feast of over-the-top silliness from the Roache-Turners. Hardly a moment goes by in Apocalypse where something absurd doesn’t happen, and I say that with a delighted thumbs up. The plot may be somewhat predictable, but the filmmakers counter that with a Looney Tunes sense of insanity that has characters flying out of ejector seats and leans hard into the mad scientist trope with a neon-soaked lab filled with mind-boggling horrors.
(Shout-out to production designer Esther Rosenberg, who keeps the look of the film interesting despite a surprisingly limited number of locations)
Also keeping things lively in this land of the dead is an energy reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s early work. With costume designer Tracey Rose Sparke’s post-apocalyptic wardrobe consisting of medieval-like armor and rusted vehicles, along with Tim Nagle’s cinematography that swoops and soars, Wyrmwood: Apocalypse is like Mad Max meets Dead Alive. When I say Mad Max, I don’t mean George Miller’s polished—though excellent--Fury Road. I mean the gritty, chaotic imperfection of the OG Mad Max (1979). Wyrmwood is sweaty. It’s loud. And it’s as rough around the edges as the clunky equipment the characters must rely on for survival. Through rich sound design from Lachlan Harris, Roache-Turner sucks you into this disgusting world, emphasizing the slurps of hybrid characters who must drink blood in order to keep from losing it, and guttural sounds of engines that sound more like hungry monsters than anything I’d ever want to drive. Throw in buckets of gore, and Wyrmwood: Apocalypse is a blood-soaked zombie flick with a high-octane punch that smashes through the screen in a fit of action-packed rage that rarely takes a moment to breathe.
Wyrmwood: Apocalypse is every bit the piece of midnight movie madness that its predecessor was.
While the plot is frustrating in how repetitive it is—a whole lot of Rhys driving back and forth between the lab with the occasional encounter here and there—the filmmakers do find plenty of room to squeeze in some ruthless commentary on pharmaceutical companies. Addiction plays a heavy role in Apocalypse, whether it’s the hybrid zombies and their need for blood, or Rhys’ constant popping of viral pills meant to hold off infection. Boshier is a delightfully evil representation of the abuse drug makers commit in the name of their own benefit, making him a villain that you love to hate. Along these lines, the filmmakers also throw in some chilling concepts to keep you up at night that I won’t mention here.
Not that I would ever recommend seeing a sequel without watching the original, but Apocalypse isn’t all that welcoming to newcomers. There’s no hand-holding with this sequel, and that means very little detail on who these characters are or what’s going on. Because these are characters returning fans have already met, the focus is much more on the zombie carnage than any sort of character development, which the film is more or less devoid of. Still, turned up to eleven villains and heroes who could burn a hole through steel with their smoldering stares—you do not want to mess with the women of Wyrmwood: Apocalypse—are enough to keep audiences invested, even if we don’t know a damn thing about anyone.
Regardless, Wyrmwood: Apocalypse is a mouthful of adrenaline that speeds past its flaws for a thrilling crowd pleaser. It’s the kind of movie meant to be seen with a rabid audience crammed into a theater that smells of salty popcorn, booze, and a hint of B.O. covered up by the dude in back passing around a joint. It’s your standard sequel that can’t quite surpass the original, but packed with all of the elements that made Road of the Dead a zombie film worth taking a bite out of.
Wyrmwood: Apocalypse is now on VOD from XYZ Films.
By Matt Konopka