The Dead Lands
An action film that aims to take the audience on a journey through New Zealand’s tribal history, The Dead Lands reflects on the ancient Maori. It centres on Hongi (James Rolleston), a Maori chieftain’s teenage son who must avenge his father’s murder after most of his tribe is slaughtered by rivals led by the glory-obsessed Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka). On his quest for revenge, Hongi follows Wirepa and his men through the Dead Lands – a fearful place, once inhabited by a powerful tribe until it disappeared in an instant. Soon, Hongi realises that he cannot face his enemy alone and so strikes an unlikely alliance with The Warrior (Lawrence Makoare), a ruthless fighter with a cannibalistic taste living in the Dead Lands. The two of them set off on a journey, battling their way to seek Hongi’s vengeance.
The film is entirely in Maori, refreshing in a world where, regardless of the story’s origins, its heroes speak almost exclusively in English. Both the producer Matthew Metcalfe and director Toa Fraser wanted to recreate the Maori world with its culture, beliefs, martial arts, so the language has not been compromised either. The film’s New Zealand is a largely unknown one – it’s an ancient world appearing as it did long before Europeans colonized it; a tribal society in which the spirit world was a part of everyday life and a person’s ancestors walked alongside them. The interesting setting suits the exotic story.
The plot does end up being quite generic in following the usual path of a young man on a journey to adulthood, with its clichéd themes about revenge and honour. Regardless of that, The Dead Lands is still quite interesting as a cultural study on an exotic land and it is fascinating to acknowledge the tribes’ mythical beliefs and warrior traditions. As an action film, it is very well shot and the fighting scenes are among the strongest points. It reveals some gory details and does not shy away from the gruesome, and this only adds to the authenticity.
All in all, The Dead Lands is an entertaining action flick that might not be completely historically accurate, but nevertheless offers a visually stunning look into the origins of New Zealand often neglected by filmmakers.
The Dead Lands is released on 29th May 2015.
Watch the trailer for The Dead Lands here: