The Dead Lands
In pre-colonial New Zealand, Aotearoa, Young Hongi (James Rolleston), is framed for committing sacrilege against the ancestors by Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka), the conceited and war-hungry leader of a neighbouring tribe. After being ambushed by Wirepa and his warriors in the night, Hongi is left with no family. In order to prove himself and to avenge his tribe he vows to sleigh Wirepa himself. In following his target, Hongi is forced to enter the Dead Lands – forbidden and cursed territory occupied by an unknown monster – and the story begins to unfold.
The Dead Lands is an archetypal quest for honour and self-discovery. Spoken entirely in the Maori language, it is a treat to hear such unfamiliar incantation, adding integrity and truth to the story.
It’s a fairly classic narrative: the underdog son of a great leader strikes out on his own in the name of honour. Hongi grows from juvenile onlooker to athletic combatant with the help of colossal half-human half-demon Warrior (Lawrence Makoare), and helps to end the mindless circle of murder and avengement between tribes.
Shot in Auckland, the scenery is memorising, and has been artfully captured as an adrenaline-pumped labyrinth for the combatants to negotiate. Director Toa Fraser has maintained brilliant realism of Maori history with the remarkable costume and weapon design throughout. The choreography too is an arresting display of authentic Maori warfare, however there is an awful lot of it.
The fighting style is brutally bone-smacking, and the number of fatalities rockets from within the first few minutes. As forceful and bloody as warrior combat gets with a bit of cannibalism thrown in, this is not one for the squeamish.
Though its plot is fairly predictable, The Dead Lands makes for exciting viewing to begin with, but with battle scene after battle scene, it feels a little repetitive by the end.
The Dead Lands is released nationwide on 9th October 2014.
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