The Dead Lands Review

The Dead Lands has already had acclaim at Toronto Film festival and now its come home to Aotearoa!

What a year it’s been for Kiwi film: The Last Saint, Housbound, The Dark Horse and What We Do In The Shadows have all won critical and box office success, can this Māori action flick make its mark?

The Dead Lands sticks to a tried and tested good ‘ol revenge story set it pre-colonial New Zealand. Wirepa, played by Te Kohe Tuhaka, wants a fight so he accuses Hongi of disrespecting the remains of his ancestors and uses this as motivation to brutally murder the whole rival tribe.

James Rolleston plays Hongi the lone survivor of this attack and the chieftan’s son, who is looking for vengeance. Hongi is only 15 and is not quite skilled in his warrior ways yet, even his dead grandmother speaks to him and mocks him for his violent ambitions. He is not deterred and he vows to kill Wirepa to avenge his fathers death.

He travels to The Dead Lands which are filled with spirits and ghosts of a tribe know to have vanished. He seeks the excellently terrifying ‘Monster’ played by Lawrence Makaore, who is feared  as a beast for his cannibalism and violence, to help him on his quest. This is an unexpectedly successful partnership and the two set out to hunt down Wirepa and his men.

The whole film is in te reo Māori and this aids the whole story in representing a spiritual and emotional coming of age for Hongi. The dreamlike conversations with the dead ,and thoughts of the afterlife and ancestors, are poetically written and powerfully delivered.

It is beautifully shot for both the epic battles scenes and spiritual journey shots. The skills of the warriors are shouted from the tree tops in this film. The combat sequences are displayed in as much precision as the fighters land their paddles on their victims.

Rolleston once again delivers a mature performance. I very much enjoyed the bad guys too, Te Kohe Tuhaka, was horrid, arrogant and merciless. Makaore was intimidating, terrifying yet intriguing as the Monstor, his monologue was one of the highlights of the script. Amongst all this bare muscle and testosterone was a kick ass woman Mehe, played by Raukura Turei. Her fight sequence with Monstor was as energetic and threatening as any of the all male fights.

Stylistic costumes and weaponry make this action adventure a truly original affair.

The Dead Lands is violent and bloody, but not grotesque or gruesome. It’s highly emotive and its motivation is for retribution and respect. Toa Fraser has created a mystical environment that is ripe for a action packed sequel!

Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar

5 stars