Back in 2014, Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner’s Wyrmwood: Road of The Dead reinjected some much-needed vitality in the zombie movie genre by turning it on its head and coming up with some truly demented concepts. Some of the more exciting aspects were: zombies hooked up to cars as fuel source, a gas-powered mega-harpoon, and a katana vs. boomerang scene. Frantic, in-your face, visceral editing and camerawork, plus a purely cool character who could control zombies with her mind ensured that Wyrmwood would end up a cult hit. Seven years later, the Turners strike back with a sequel, but does it rise up to the original’s challenge?
Apocalypse is not a next-minute sequel to Road of the Dead, although it starts off in medias res. The plot concerns brothers Barry and Brooke still trying to survive and a new character, Rhys, working for a military faction trying to find a cure for the virus. Barry and Brooke are joined by newcomers Maxi and Grace, and the intense opening sees a negotiation not going according to plan. Some time has passed between the events of the previous film and these characters’ latest exploits (the Turners were supposed to make a Wyrmwood tv-show in the meantime, but so far only a short film has resulted from that endeavor). Brooke, able to control zombies and turn them into her private army, is beginning to succumb more and more to her primal side. Luckily, she agrees to take the antidote, but the group is left splintered. Disgruntled teammates make no effort to hide their disdain at the unorthodox survival strategies employed by the siblings: “You’re both monsters”, they tell Barry and Brooke.
Apocalypse sees the Turners adopt a more sun-drenched color palette – this is more Fury Road than Road Warrior, every bit as irreverent as its predecessor, only with higher production values as well as the same insane editing and camerawork. After a hilarious zombie montage scene akin to the tone of the recent Two Heads Creek, we cut to a fortified settlement with – what else – zombies being used as power supply. We are also introduced to the new protagonist Rhys (Luke McKenzie), brother of the fallen Captain from the first film, also a baddie (but, as we will see throughout the film, one with boundaries). Rhys works for a group led by the blood-drenched yellow hazmat-suit wearing Surgeon General, who routinely kidnaps people and is just up to no good. He is also looking for Brooke in search of a cure to the zombie virus.
You would think Rhys would need an entire act to track down Brooke’s group, but the very next scene he is seen capturing Grace, who is also transitioning to zombie but fends off the transformation via the antidote. She poses a tough challenge, but Rhys manages to overpower her and delivers her to his bosses. Apocalypse doesn’t really rely on a strong narrative, although one important theme is akin to the that of Antisocial 2: the chosen few who have resisted the virus being subjected to harrowing torture in order to save humanity; only this time, the baddies aren’t actually REALLY trying to do that. Rhys’s superiors, and the Surgeon General have discovered yet another creative use of zombie fluid and are very much enjoying it for themselves (those who have seen Repo! The Genetic Opera will probably think “Zydrate” at this point).
What Apocalypse really does differently than its predecessor is doubling down on its comedy: zombies are still used as comic relief, without the pretense of movies like The Dead Don’t Die – they’re undiluted primal rage, but also ineffective and helpless, flailing around in cages or hooked up to devices which syphon their valuable resources. Rhys turns to meditation to calm his nerves (one could bet he has a mindfulness manual tucked away in his uniform). When he is captured by Grace’s sister Maxi, he manages to outsmart her too – yes, Apocalypse is sometimes like a Tom & Jerry episode on speed, and you begin to wish for Rhys to finally meet his match. A constant factor is people getting the drop on each other by using secret spots or retractable pieces of machinery – especially drawers – utilising the environment and just getting up to fight again and again when you thought they were done for. The hilarious sound effects (ka-ching!) from the original film and the nitrous mode (even funnier once you realize how it’s made possible) are back in full force.
However, Apocalypse doesn’t shy away from fast and furious action scenes or copious amounts of gore either. Rhys has a process of conscience when he finds out what his superiors really do to the people they take, or what was in his antiviral pills he routinely ingested to stave off the infection. Humans and mind-controlled zombies fight together against the outpost, with the real monsters being the higher-up military men and their aberrations. Blood splatters in every direction, skulls are crushed, limbs are eaten, faces torn off. The final assault scene is a masterpiece of tight editing, comedic timing, and inspiration unleashed. Brooke looks even more iconic, more like her Chronicles self than how she did in the first film. The movie relies less on inflicting torture on women (one of the only downsides of the original) and more on just inflicting bloody mayhem.
When it comes to comparing the two movies, however, the original still manages to come up victorious by a sizeable margin – there is nothing in Apocalypse that stacks up to the belly-laughs and howling caused by lines such as “he uses (the mega-harpoon) to hunt sharks in Perth“, although that one moment when someone barks “Hey, you come and stick this up my nose!” will surely elicit laughter. Or the exchange about the bunker’s cleansing agent (“What’s it made of?” followed by everyone immediately covering their faces). There are still gags to die for in here, but most are the equivalent of seeing a burly man repeatedly slipping on a banana peel. There are some wild sight gags, but it’s really the timing, the whirlwind effect, and the not-so-subtle digs at fascism which end up impressing this time, not necessarily the writing itself.
When it comes to the big guns, Apocalypse brings out a Doctor Who Sontaran-looking super-soldier, and what looks like the Super-mutants from the Fallout video-game franchise crossed with The Terminator‘s T-1000, into the fold. Brooke finally finds herself in a tussle where she is forced to use all her cunning against a beastly opponent, while Barry and Rhys have their nemeses to battle as well. The final fights are truly massive in scale, filled with blood and sweat, but also desperation and sacrifice. Apocalypse delivers the emotional brother-sister moment – the “look at us now” scene fans have been waiting for since the first film, and there is even a great sequel-hook that toys with the emotions of the viewer.
Overall, Apocalypse might not have the impact of Road of the Dead, but it’s clearly a work of love (you can see how much Kian Roache-Turner cares, and witness his talent for self-deprecating humor and visual gags in a Youtube scene breakdown ), as well as a fast-paced horror-comedy bound to be a crowd pleaser. It is the sort of genre movie designed to entertain both serious fest audiences and home viewers. It has something special in store for you every couple of seconds, and just goes overboard on so many levels it’s impossible to throw any complaints at it. We can only look forward to the third part of the franchise, and hope that this movie receives the many accolades plus ardent minutes of applause it justly deserves.
Wyrmwood Apocalypse is screening as part of the 2022 FrighFest Glasgow Line-up
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