If you’re doing a zom­bie movie in the post–Walking Dead era, you’ve got to give the audi­ence more than the usu­al flesh-chomp­ing same-old. It’s no longer enough to emu­late George Romero flicks or 28 Days Later: the cur­rent zom­bie movie cycle has reached a place where it is nec­es­sary to cross­breed the sub­gen­re with oth­er styles of sto­ry­telling to keep things inter­est­ing. A recent film that has done this type of cross­breed­ing well is Wyrmwood: Road Of The Dead. This Aussie import not only brings in a Mad Max action vibe, Wyrmwood-posit also throws in some unex­pect­ed and wel­come sci-fi ele­ments.

Though it is laid out in a tricky cut-up style, the plot of Wyrmwood is essen­tial­ly a road movie. Some sort of strange out­er space event caus­es a zom­bie plague and Barry (Jay Gallagher) learns about it when he gets a pan­icked call from his sis­ter Brooke (Bianca Bradley). He sets out to find her, even­tu­al­ly team­ing with good-natured goof Benny (Leon Burchill) and mechan­i­cal genius Frank (Keith Agius) to fight his way there. Meanwhile, Brooke is cap­tured by sol­diers that ush­er her into the lab of a gonzo sci­en­tist (Berynn Schwerdt) doing some unortho­dox exper­i­ments with zom­bies and sur­vivors.

Wyrmwood: Road Of The Dead deliv­ers all the blood-drenched excite­ment the premise sug­gests. It’s as much an action film as it is a hor­ror film, with the sto­ry unfurling between or in the mid­st of a series of kinet­ic set­pieces where bul­lets and punch­es fly alongside the blood-spat­ters and body parts. It’s the first film from the broth­er team of Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner — Kiah direct­ed, Tristan pro­duced and both script­ed. Both were clear­ly raised on the ear­ly work of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, as their film taps into the half-cartoon/half-splatter tone with snap­py edit­ing and mobile cam­er­a­work that draw the view­er into the heart of the onscreen car­nage.

Wyrmwood-01However, the big sur­prise with Wyrmwood: Road Of The Dead is that it as ambi­tious as it is ener­get­ic, with the Roache-Turners using their cin­e­mat­ic debut to exper­i­ment on a num­ber of lev­els. The film has been praised for its nods to Mad Max — the heroes wear armor to fight zom­bies and there’s a car-stunt sequence — but it also incor­po­rates some wild sci­ence-fic­tion angles via the mad sci­en­tist sub­plot, lead­ing to some unpre­dictable plot twists that add a new lev­el of excite­ment to the third act. They also weave in cool lit­tle touch­es, like how the zom­bies breath a fuel source that can fuel cars in the film’s post-astral event world.

Wyrmwood: Road Of The Dead also exper­i­ments dar­ing­ly with tone, veer­ing from action/horror tough­ness to slap­stick com­e­dy to intense dra­ma — some­times cov­er­ing them all in the same scene. All the pro­tag­o­nists, even comic relief Benny, get Wyrmwood-02moments of qui­et dra­ma that add a tex­ture that gets the view­er invest­ed in what’s hap­pen­ing to the heroes. The per­for­mances make the tonal shifts work: Gallagher does fine work as the grim main hero, Bradley offers an ener­get­ic and con­vinc­ing inter­pre­ta­tion of the “tough chick” arche­type and Burchill han­dles the dead­pan dumb-guy humor well. Elsewhere, Agius offers a like­able reg­u­lar-guy vari­a­tion on the mechan­i­cal genius and Schwerdt cre­ates a mem­o­rably freaky vari­a­tion on the stock mad sci­en­tist char­ac­ter.

In short, Wyrmwood: Road Of The Dead is one of the true gems of the mod­ern zom­bie flick because it clev­er­ly mix­es in oth­er gen­res and jug­gles a vari­ety of tones with sur­pris­ing skill for a first-time effort. If only the rest of the cur­rent zom­bie brigade worked as hard as this film does.