The Roache-Turner brothers – writer/director Kiah and writer/producer Tristan – delivered a no-budget hoot in Wyrmwood (2014), which infused yet another zombie apocalypse with a strain of antipodean humour and liveliness evocative of early Peter Jackson or George Miller. That said, it was eight years ago (the brothers made Nekrotronic in the interim) and a hell of a lot of film/TV zombie apocalypses and a real-world pandemic have happened since then. It took me a couple of minutes to have my memory jarred enough to pick up on returning characters (complicated because Luke McKenzie is cast as the twin brother of the villain he played in the first film), recall the specifics of this particular dystopia (zombie exhalations are the only workable fuel in this world and rare hybrid zombie/humans have telepathic control of mindless flesh-eaters) and generally get back into the grungy, irreverent vibe of what now feels like a series.
Rhys (McKenzie) is a surviving grunt, spending his days rounding up and delivering living and living dead folks to a bunker run by a demented Surgeon General (Nicholas Boshier) and a martinet colonel (Jake Ryan). He believes he’s contributing to a research project that’ll deliver a cure for the zombie plague, but actually the scientist and the military man are just indulging their own sadistic whims and recycling people for their own benefit Soylent Green-style. Meanwhile, Barry (Jay Gallagher) and his hybrid sister Brooke (Bianca Bradley) are still roaming the countryside and sisters Maxi (Shantae Barnes-Cowan) and Grace (Tasia Zalar) are doing their best to survive and thrive in the wilderness. All the characters are on a collision course, with shifting allegiances and loyalties – and Rhys’ life is complicated by the fact that he looks exactly like the guy the holdover characters hated in the last film (we get flashback glimpses of his fate and other handy plot points).
Though Barnes-Cowan has a low-key intensity and McKenzie modulates Mad Maxiness with a soft centre, most of the performances start at eleven and ramp up from there – even beyond the Jackson-Miller norm, into the sort of attack found in Death Warmed Up or Dead Kids. It’s non-stop action and gore gags, but the Roache-Turners cram in a lot of invention, with side-jokes that could be assembled into a 101 Uses for a Living Dead Person book as a world of rust and duct-tape is powered by zombies whose bad breath keeps cars on the road and who can be puppetmastered as suicide bomber shock troops by the white-eyed hybrids. One set-piece has the Surgeon General, who is sometimes assailed Strangelove style by his own zombie arm, piloting a cyborg zombie hulk with attached scythe hands in a major one-on-one fight scene. A few moments of poignance are handy, but this is mostly an old-fashioned Oz exploitation romp.