Published May 11, 2015Wyrmwood is a disconnected, confused film that rapidly switches back and forth between a gritty zombie survival story and a goofy, pulpy gore fest without ever really nailing either one. It's a damn shame, too, because it's filled with some great ideas that go maddening unexplained and unexplored.
A sudden and unexplained zombie outbreak is introduced via flashback by supporting character — and secret star of the film — Benny (Leon Burchill), the guy who probably should have been our likeable and slightly dim hero. Benny is the film's secret weapon, a fairly one-dimensional sidekick who would have been the ideal protagonist for a crazy post-apocalyptic adventure. Instead, we get flat, wooden Barry (Jay Gallagher).
After a frantic late-night phone call from his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) that alerts Barry to the presence of a sudden zombie outbreak, he's forced to kill his infected wife and daughter. It's a by-the-books re-enactment of every "kill loved ones" scene in zombie movies, intercut with shots of Brooke's photography studio, in which a punky model decked out in Día de los Muertos makeup suddenly becomes infected. These two scenes are so tonally different it's hard to tell if we're supposed to be having fun or feeling Barry's pain. Barry spends the first few scenes of the film suicidal, desperate, and pining for his lost family — until suddenly he isn't. Why introduce this narrative arc if it ends up being unresolved and ultimately unimportant? The rest of the film follows the same trajectory.
The better half is unmistakably Brooke's. Trapped in a mysterious government testing tent with some chained-up zombies and a dancing weirdo in a hazmat suit, this is the fun, funnier part of the movie, with intense jump cuts and wide-angles, the part zombie fans were promised when they were given the tagline "Mad Max meets Dawn of the Dead." Instead, by frequently flipping to the story of her rescuer brother Barry, we're forcibly pulled out of what could have been a very cool, neon-soaked experimental B-horror and into a plodding, confusing, disposable version of The Walking Dead.
When zombie films kill off characters, we're either to see them as cogs in the cool and gruesome death machine, or as painful losses for the protagonist. Wyrmwood is never quite sure if it wants us to feel either one. Potentially interesting supporting characters are given a brief, compelling piece of backstory before being unceremoniously dispatched. Why bother at all? It's a frustrating interstitial until we get to another Brooke scene, which are totally worth the wait. If only they'd been the whole movie.