Sunday, August 02, 2015

Aussies gone Wild is Redundant: WYRMWOOD,THE ROVER

Horror festival favorite knockabout labor of love Aussie debut of brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner, WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD (2014) kicks off already at risk of becoming a bit too WALKING DEAD meets ballsy-wallsy Aussie dingo-aitcha-baby macho, with so much wobbly-booted whiplash camera movement, slow-mo blood splatter, mud flecks, grime streaks, diesel oil drips and spray paint (both dried and glistening) coating every makeshift black spray-painted football pad surface that pretty soon a little spot of cleanliness would go a long way, even if just for contrast. At times, with nary a wowser to bounce shit offa there's a bit too-much macabre laddie deadpan humor, but it all eventually locks into place and, once the momentum hits, you're thrice-buckled to the boosted ute, mate.

The main focal character point getting off the ground is Barrie (Jay Gallagher) who loses wife and child to the outbreak of contagious 21 Days Later-style madness early on, in a great 'fleeing in the middle of the night' sequence (you don't have to get bitten to turn monstro, but it helps). Meanwhile Barrie's twin sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) is busy in her art studio/garage in the wilds of wherever, spray painting a punkette pal when the contagion hits, and she and n Barrie--somehow genetically immune--spend most of the movie trying to find each other, a bit like the Gish sisters in ORPHANS OF THE STORM, but with one of them garnering--not a handsomely-headed French aristo--but telepathic ability to control the zombies, this thanks to inhuman medical experiments performed on her by a creepy dude in a yellow rain slicker hazmat suit inside a big truck trailer lab. If you're instantly reminded of Virginia Leith's head in THE THING THAT WOULDN'T DIE bonding with the unseen monster in the closet ("I am only a head, and you are whatever we are, but together we're strong!!") then you're a weirdo with a lifelong telepathic connection to the classics.

It's all well and gritty, but there's so much Pollack-ish overlapped grime layers to every surface it makes THE PROPOSITION seem like THX 1138. To be endured as well is the sadistic chod chaining Brooke up in back of his weird portable HOSTEL-esque truck, all rapey-vibed, but then just sucking brains out of her neighbors, etc. Just inconveniencing her would have been enough justification for his rending as far as I'm concerned, 'cuz Brooke rocks. You can read tomes of savagery switchpoint courage in her heavy eye liner-blackened thousand-yard ESP stare, and her big Zoë Bell-on-a-Dodge Challenger moment is one of the highlights of the junk cinema year. Not nearly enough aggro bingles, boosted cars smashing through the center of caravans in slow motion, or servo fireballs to warrant the ROAD WARRIOR comparison but that's okay. Just walk away. 

So what we're left with, then is more NIGHT OF THE COMET or old AIP-Corman budget-masking trickery, i.e. you imply the zombie attacks from other films are taking place at the same time your own movie is going on, subliminally drinking their big budget special effects milkshake. But I ain't whingin'. I'd rather WYRM be AIP-COMET honest than simply packed with CGI macro-calamity adding up to nothing, loudly. Plus: the whole doing experiments with the brains and blood of the immune and its cool jet black humor superhero side effect of the damned, centering on Brooke's torturously slow race against time trying to telepathically control tied up zombies into patiently cutting their way out of their straps and then doing hers, is all genuinely new to the genre, commenting perhaps on the nature of video games (as in learning the tricks of the controls) rather than just trying duplicate them, i.e. to duplicate movies based on games that were trying to duplicate movies in the first place, like RESIDENT EVIL, themselves copies of earlier movies, and down the rabbit hole until we're back at square one, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and then before that, the terror of children worrying their dad will turn into a monster again once he spends half his paycheck at the local tavern, like a Jekyll/Hyde fundamental human split we all still carry like an archaic memory of the days before we learned how to start our own fires.

And then, just when it was getting so badass, it's over. Needing perhaps more crowdfunding to continue on into sequels. Well they should get it, as this WYRM may digest the same sources as all the other Romero-zombie rips but it spews some interesting mutations and manages to do quite a lot with actually very little, thanks to committed performances and Michael Lira's 'Stravinsky meets the Cramps at a John Zorn junkyard' score. I kept hoping for a didgeridoo in there, all low and alien and mean and maybe processed through flanger --it didn't come, but I still liked WYRMWOOD. So give it a squizz when yakka's got you stonkered and you need to rip a rollie and coldie, whatever that means. Shout's Blu-ray has an insightful Turner-Roache commentary, deleted scenes, and an array of helpful suggestions for doing your own damn movie--crowdfunding trailers, pitch meetings--a great little crash course in using social media to get your scrappy little horror-action movie off the ground. But more importantly, the Blu-ray has a full bore kickass stereo mix all but screaming for max volume and/or kickass headphones when the rest of the household is in bed, at peace, or at least fastened securely.

And the movie itself... ah yes, what is it the Aussies say about a nice buzz and low expectations? Nothing - because it's such a natural state for them they don't know any other way. And that is just one reason why we still love them, despite everything... by which I mean Yahoo Serious.

(2014) Dir David Michôd

Ozploitation films set in the endless miles of Australia's interior, the harsh, alien, truly strange Outback, have--beginning in American minds with MAD MAX and CROCODILE DUNDEE and cumulating in the torturous WOLF CREEK--left many of us in the States terrified of ever going farther away than a few miles from the coast should we ever visit (and not too deep in the ocean either, cuzza shahks).  The Outback seems like a kind of apocalypse vanguard, a sampler of the future breakdown. Inhospitable and strange, its alien landscape sucks in whole swaths of 19th century schoolgirls, alien cities, floods, Colonial children following Aborigine kids on walkabout and outdoorsy killers. Everything runs wild there, and insufficient petrol reserves or manpower to police and power the whole damn wasteland area keeps it as lawless as a pre-Earp Tombstone. A movie so grimy it makes WYRMWOOD seem clean, THE ROVER is set in some near future where gas, guns, and cars are worth killing to steal, and the best the cops can do is lumber along down the endless highways in the direction of the criminals, driving through the parking lots of any motels along the way, occasionally shooting someone or getting shot in turn. Why do they even bother?

Robert Pattinson plays a contorted half-starved young snot who for some reason rocks a Southern (as in the USA) accent and hooks up with a John Lurie-esquely taciturn rogue (Guy Peace) who has such a homicidal fixation on recovering his stolen car that you just know some Iowa State Quarterly-esque twist is coming. The film's seedy impoverished mise-en-scene suffers from being too earnest and downbeat, ala THE ROAD rather than THE ROAD WARRIOR and what's worse, this collapsing civilization works by some seriously inconsistent rules. A small arms dealer is dumb enough to take a lone wild-eyed customer to a secluded room, hand him a gun and ammo and then tell said nutball to give the gun and ammo back if he can't pay. Another man wisely works behind thick walls with automat-style sliding doors for items bought, but when the nominal heroes need gas, he sells them a five gallon jug, which should be about enough to get them just smack dab in the middle of nowhere before they run out again. How these guys ever keep these vehicles going over these vast distances on gas cans designed to hold no more than a few gallons seems a little vague --I wouldn't care but they're trying so hard to be realistic, though why I do not know. Out here in the perimeter there are no hospitals or AAA. A person could die by hitting his head on a rock after diving in a lake, and only Toni Collette would ever know you loved her (as in JAPANESE STORY). That's why we're at the movies, mate, to get away from dispiriting neorealist squalor of this nature, not get our noses rubbed in it.

Pattinson, hair cut lice inspection short, is one weird little freak here, and almost makes up the difference. His whole body taught and lean and crouched like his hamstrings were all shortened by a sadistic Gepetto, a runt of a litter born hunched up to deflect kicks, his big T-shirt barely fitting over his lanky, underfed trunk. But to me his role here is one more link in the chain that will one day show modern naysayers that--like his TWILIGHT co-star Kristen Stewart--he is one of the more underrated actors of his or any generation. Not that this makes THE ROVER any more pleasant of an experience. You know that moldy smell some old cars get, like a tent left too long rolled up in the basement? That dirty, moldy smell? Well, the whole damn movie smells that way. It's the most malodorous film I've "seen" since the recent Blu-ray of CONVOY, which also carried the gross sulphuric tang of hot asphalt and dust, diesel gas exhaust hanging breezeless alongside moldy naugahyde and motor oil.

If that's what good literature does, make me smell things I moved to NYC to escape, prithee, Mr. Michôd, to what end? There was never a doubt why the MAD MAX movies existed: for drive-in thrills. But whither our ROVER? For a few weird twists that would seem interesting only to someone who's too trusting of their grad school fiction teacher's opinion, afraid of admitting their own un-PC urges? Better there be a red-tinted desert /shotgun firing / ancient cinema flooded-with-sand odyssey like in John Stanley's DUST DEVIL (set in South Africa, but the vibe's the same) 'cuz it at least has a hot chick, tantric voodoo sex, and some metaphysical weirdness underneath the sand and blood surface. Whadda we got in ROVER? Just the kind of moody third-act character reversals that make Sundance screenwriting workshops roll over and play dead.

But one thing Australia did right, mate, was old Croc Dundee. The Jack Burton of the Outback. And if you go to the land down under where women  snow and men thunder, and they ask about me, how's old Erich the Rah-Shmerick doin', or what's Erich into these days, you tell 'em he's hunky doro and preaching the Crocodile Dundee (also Burt Reynolds) non-duality approach to self-defense in the face of evil, a philosophy that might have spared Billy Jack, Sgt. York, Luke Skywalker, The Quiet Man, and all those other game-as-Ned Kelly but pacifist dubbos a lot of soul-searching. Croc teaches that even going lemony berko on some shickered yobbo can go fair dinkum... by which I mean, the man beyond duality does everything with love, even a knockabout blue with a big smoke bounce. Just avoid wallies... in any language. Their mundanity reduces even the grimiest bonzo philosophy to a grandma souvenir-ready T-shirt platitude and crossing guard coloring book tie-in. If you doubt, just ask the Men at Work to make you a vegemite sandwich, and take cover.  


  1. I love the Safety Dance and as an Aussie I wish we could claim it. Alas, no. But you are right about the wallies!

  2. I was anon down under this comment (sorry for the bad pun). But I have further to say, Erich! I have been reading your blog from, dunno....a long time ago. Years and years. It always brightens me. A truly great Aussie song is by Redgum, "I was only 19". In my opinion it is the best Aussie song of all. Forget Men at Work. It saddens me that what you feel is the Aussie spirit,,,,is gone. It is now in the space of myth. Perhaps that is all movies are. Just an essence of something great, a final whisper of the dying of cultures that only now exist in film. You said "what is it the Aussies say about a nice buzz and low expectations? Nothing - because it's such a natural state for them they don't know any other way." That's a nice idea, but it unfortunately is not reality. Don't delude yourself that whatever is happening in New York isn't happening here in Sydney or the outback, or the world over. We are, I guess, all fucked. I hope and believe that stories will bring us back to ourselves, but I do know that the past is dead.

    1. Dear Aussie Friend, thanks for your comments - understand of course I can only analyze the Aussie character from whatever pop culture exports come my way and the handful I've known ... and naturally it's no more than a small percent. I meant only the highest compliment about nice buzz and low expectations. As a comparison, take James Mason's midlife crisis artist in AGE OF CONSENT vs. Piccoli's in LA BELLE NOISEUSE

  3. Ugh - right - Men at WORK not Men without HATS. Damn so many men in the 80s. I also forgot to mention that every time I make a list of the male actors with balls--the 'MEN' as opposed to the baby-faced Leo-Sean-George-Brad pretty boy types, they're inevitably Australian. You know who I mean. Imagine DiCaprio as THOR or George Clooney as GLADIATOR, or Johnny Depp as the Joker - and shudder

    1. No worries.... just came back from a trip to Sumatra, so apologies for the late reply. Was in Lake Toba. Beautiful, so so different from well, anything I know. Now there is a place that really has low expectations! I do understand what you mean though. As an Aussie, whatever that means, I do get it when you talk about Clooney or DiCaprio. At drinks on a Friday afternoon at work, they would be mocked mercilessly. They would not be respected at all. If you can't make fun of yourself you are doomed. I've been the subject of that. Don't flinch, don't let it get to you, don't show anything! The longest conversation when I got back was..."oh, you're back. Nice tan". Erich, I had no tan at all. My reply was...hah, fuck off! Ah, well...maybe I could be the next Gladiator? All 5 foot of me! I am the next THOR! ;-)


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