Sunday, February 15, 2015

PIFF 38 -- WYRMWOOD (movie review)

I started to post about WYRMWOOD on my Facebook when I realized that what I had to say was going to be TL;DR for that medium.

WYRMWOOD is an Australian zombie film based on a short that was made in 2012.

The short film looked like Max Mad mixed with Land of the Dead, both of which I happen to love. Kick ass!

Fast forward three years and check out the trailer below.

Picked up by IFC Midnight for distribution, WYRMWOOD tells the story of  Barry, a mechanic who wakes up in the middle of the night and in the middle of a zompocalypse. He's able to get his wife and child out of the city, but they end up randomly turning as they head out to help Barry's sister Brooke, who - unbeknownst to them - was captured by the military and is being kept in a roaming research truck to be experimented on. There are a passel of characters added on to add to the body count and the run time and the film first focuses on an Aboriginal man named Benny who is relegated to little more than comic relief for the majority of the runtime until the end. When I saw him, I was hoping they'd gone for an Aboriginal take on the zombie phenomenon. Alas...

Firstly, huge, huge kudos to the filmmakers for persevering and getting to make their feature AND get distribution for it. I know how tough it is all around so congratulations to them. I also have to say that it seemed like the audience I saw it with at the Portland International Film Festival enjoyed it.

Now, on to the review.

This part is a bit subjective, so please keep that in mind. I love zombie movies. I've been studying them since I was a kid. Their zombie design was great, but anatomically speaking, protruding brows indicate that the ghouls have been around for quite a bit, at least a few months. WYRMWOOD takes place over the course of less than 48 hours. If the zombies are decaying that fast, Barry, Benny, Brooke, and the rest of the characters need but to hunker down for a week and Bob's your uncle, the apocalypse is over until someone is born with blood that isn't A negative (the central conceit as to why the living characters haven't magically turned is that they have A negative blood, which is extremely rare, I'll revisit this later) or they die with the brain intact.

The zombie rate of decay aside, the film's timeframe is extremely unrealistic when you consider how quickly the characters not only become accustomed to the living dead, but build intricate mechanical tools for battle and some also go utterly bonkers. A few simple sentences could've removed the action on screen from day zero of the apocalypse and made it more plausible. I know that words like "plausible" and "unrealistic" seem anathema to a review about a zombie movie, but what makes a film -any film - work is a level of believability or reality. Classic zombie films like George A. Romero's Dead Cycle or THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (though that one has flaws that could be its own article, and I LOVE that film) work because there is a certain level of reality that bolsters the unbelievability of the story. This is true of any film regardless of genre or genres.

This part is super subjective so take it or leave it, but I'm a bit tired of zombies not having human eyes. Putting contacts into their eyes without medical reasons (like clouded eyes or petechiae) might look cool, but they take away the allegory of them being us and makes it more easy to kill them. Should it be that easy? Where is the moral dilemma?

Revisiting the A negative blood thing, which is inventive: how is it that the army guys who aren't A negative had the foresight to not only wear ventilator units the entire time, but also had enough time to build intricate electric motors? Barry and Benny had one other person to help them kit out the truck which I still don't think could've been done in the amount of time the filmmakers allowed. And they made a gigantic, accidental leap in logic to realize that the zombies were manufacturing some sort of fuel in the daytime. (By the way, for gasoline at least, it's not the liquid that's flammable, it's the fumes coming off of the liquid.)

At this point, I should say that lot of the plot points are fun: I like the subplot with the sister, the ghouls as gas idea, and the Max Mad aspects.

On the technical side... I was constantly thrown out of the film by the cinematography. It looked like it was shot entirely with a 50mm lens on a DSLR that was not connected to a monitor and the focus set to auto and while IMDb doesn't give lens information, the page does say that, yes, it was shot on a Canon 5D. The focus was all over the place, even in scenes where there was very little action, and the movie on the whole felt like it was shot by several different people. Even the colour grading was different throughout.

That said, everything else about the film on the technical side was great. The acting, the lighting, the sound, the effects, the truck...great stuff! But the plot felt too slick and I didn't really care about the characters. Overall, while I was disappointed, I'm looking forward to seeing what else the team behind the film come up with and I hope they get their next film rolling very soon.

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