Kiah Roache-Turner: The Dawn of Wyrmwood Apocalypse

February 23, 2021
Back in 2014, independent Aussie zombie flick, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, made over 3 years by brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner, was released and awoke a local horror horde that very few thought existed. Now they are deep in production on a sequel, Wyrmwood Apocalypse.

“I think on the first one we just lucked into a great concept that nobody had tapped into yet – the idea of mixing the aesthetic of Mad Max with the general premise of Dawn of The Dead was something that genre fans immediately frothed on, so we were able to build a fanbase online long before the movie even came out,” says Director/Co-Writer Kiah Roache-Turner. “Then add into the mix the idea of methane breathing zombies that can be used to power armoured vehicles and a half-zombie mutant girl with the power to control the undead with her mind and you’ve got the perfect Friday night beer-fuelled horror movie!

“At the end of the day though, what brings people into these kind of films is just good old-fashioned filmmaking. If you get a bunch of dedicated, talented people together who are all passionate about what they are doing and are all pouring their heart, soul, blood and tears into a central vision you can’t help but come out with something special. I’m not worried about duplicating or emulating the success of the first film – I’m too busy being super-stoked about what an amazing group of artists we have brought together and how phenomenal the footage is looking on my monitors to think about it in those terms.”

Wyrmwood Apocalypse features returning cast members Jay Gallagher and Bianca Bradey, plus new cast Nick Boshier, Jake Ryan, Tasia Zalar, Luke McKenzie, Shantae Barnes Cowan and loads of zombies.

We caught up with Kiah, who couldn’t be more pumped about being back in the Wyrmwood universe.

Wyrmwood Apocalypse zombies. Photo by Emma Bjorndahl

You went from working with very little on the original film to having all the tools at your disposal for Nekrotronic; is this sequel a chance to capture the vitality of the original?

Nekrotronic taught me that the bigger the budget the bigger the stakes, which means a hell of a lot more scrutiny goes into every creative decision you make along the way. It’s a lot harder to maintain control over your vision if everybody is second guessing your ideas throughout the entire process. That’s just a fair reality. If a bunch of people give you 10 million dollars to do something, they want to know you are going to do it right, and whether you like it or not, there’s going to be micro-managing involved, and it takes a special kind of talent to be able to work effectively within that paradigm. Nekrotronic is a fun movie, but it didn’t end up being ‘our’ movie. The Wyrmwood world means a huge amount to us personally and we knew we weren’t going to be able to make the sequel we wanted under those circumstances. We made a hardline decision to try and make Apocalypse with the smallest possible budget to attempt to maintain the same control as we had on the first one – which was TOTAL control.”

Is it strange shooting the entire film in a whole block rather than in bits like the original film?

“Well, we shot our Nekrotronic in a block, so we’ve had a bit of practice at that now, but yes, shooting Wyrmwood Apocalypse in six weeks versus the three and a half years it took us to get the first one in the can was certainly a very different process. It’s funny, we had literally no money on Road of the Dead, but we had all the time in the world to get it right. Now we have more money and heaps more experience but considerably less time to do it in. The first film was an exercise in quality versus budget, this time around it’s an exercise in quality versus time. We’re flexing a whole new set of muscles on this baby, but the results have been out of this world, so we must be doing something right!”

You’re making the sequel independently – and it has been a while between films – were there many times when it was going to start then stalled? And why?

“Yeah, well, we spent a few years developing a project that eventually turned into Nekro and then we spent a few years trying to get a Wyrmwood TV series up. We wanted to make the most insane, badass, high-octane TV show ever produced in Australia. We were selling it as Fury Road meets World War Z. We wrote a pilot and a detailed 10 part treatment, put together a massive series bible filled to the brim with imagery, awesome concept art, graphic novel style illustrations, storyboards, info about all the characters and the world, ideas for later seasons, ways to expand the world into a global context, it was beautiful. We pitched it around all the usual places, met with every TV exec we could corner in LA and everybody said the same thing: ‘after The Walking Dead, nobody wants another zombie TV series’. Now, as a zombie fan, I know that is total bullshit, but the market tells you what the market wants, so we said ‘fuck it’, and shredded the series down to an hour and a half story arc and just went ahead and made a film sequel instead.”

Bianca Bradey and Jay Gallagher in Wyrmwood Apocalypse Photo by Emma Bjorndahl

Are Jay Gallagher and Bianca Bradey playing the same characters as in the original, and where do we find them here?

“They do indeed! We are about a year into the Apocalypse and they are both a little more battle-hardened. Bianca’s character has gone a little more ‘berko’ and is slipping more towards the zombie side of her nature. She is a total psycho in this and is tearing up the screen with her performance. She is NOT holding back. Jay’s able to have a little more fun this time around. It’s been long enough from the time he had to (spoiler alert) kill his wife and child with a nail-gun for him not to wander around in this one being all grumpy the whole time, and he gets to have a few laughs in between kicking ass and demolishing skulls with a pump action-shotgun. It was so amazing to see those two legends come into the table read and slip confidently back into character as if those six years in between had never happened.”

Is Wyrmwood TV still a thing, or have you moved on?

“It’s totally still a thing. If you can find someone to give us 10 million dollars we’ll give you 10 of the most amazingly savage/violent/funny/gory/disturbingly violent and exciting hours of Australian television you have ever seen. much more of an ‘origin story’ to allow the audience to enter our world from a more familiar context rather than just dumping them into bizarre high-concept fantasy from the get go. We actually wrote the opening scene of Apocalypse back in 2010 and then decided to keep it for a sequel instead, so this project was always meant to be something we could serialise. We have so much fun writing in the Wyrmwood world that it sometimes feels like we could riff on this stuff endlessly. That’s why we began plans for a TV series. We can’t get enough of it!”

Apocalypse seems like a fitting subtitle given the current climate of the world.  When was the idea for the sequel created?

“The general concept is over a decade old, but we started hardcore plotting and planning for the story arc maybe three years ago. It’s so bizarre how prescient some of these themes have become recently though. Wyrmwood Apocalypse is about a virus that has spread around the globe that is deadly to some but ineffective to others that has caused people to isolate indoors and wear masks everywhere … sound familiar?”

Rhys (Luke McKenzie) in Wyrmwood Apocalypse. Photo by Emma Bjorndahl

Films like Dawn of the Dead and Mad Max were often drawn as comparisons when describing the first film. Are there any influences being incorporated into this second film?

“My brother and I grew up watching Mad Max and Dawn of the Dead over and over again on old rented VHS tapes, so those films are burned into our brains. Mad Max 1 and 2 are such phenomenally well-made genre films and are such a massive part of Australian culture and Dawn of the Dead is basically the rosetta stone for any card-carrying member of the global horror film fan club that it still boggles my brain that nobody thought of blending those two concepts into a zombie film. I’m just glad that we were the ones to get it out there first! From an aesthetic standpoint the two Georges (Miller and Romero) are still definitely a huge influence on the visual style of this film. There’s also a bit of Sam Raimi in there, and a large helping of Peter Jackson as well, just for good measure!”

Anything you wanted to put in the first film you weren’t able to that you’re getting around to this time?

“We wanted to put a Cyborg Zombie in the first one but couldn’t afford it and that has definitely been remedied here. There’s also more action, more crazy costumes, bigger and better sets, more Mad Max style vehicles and custom made sci-fi looking weaponry. And more guns. LOTS more guns.”

Main Photo Credit: Emma Bjorndahl

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