The Dead Lands (15) | Close-Up Film Review


Dir. Toa Fraser, New Zealand/UK, 2014, 107 mins, Subtitles

Cast: James Rolleston, Lawrence Makoare, Te Kohe Tuhaka

Set hundreds of years ago in New Zealand, director Toa Fraser’s film examines the people, spiritual beliefs and even fighting styles of a Māori tribe, with the movie’s dialogue all spoken in the endangered Māori language.

Althouugh, The Dead Lands manages to be a stereotypical vengeance story seen in countless other film, the end result is an interesting look at a rich and isolated culture.

The story follows Hongi (James Rolleston) a Māori chieftain’s teenage son, who must avenge his father’s murder after his tribe and family are slaughtered through an act of treachery. Outnumbered by a band of villains led by Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka), Hongi’s only hope is to pass through the feared and forbidden Dead Lands and ally with the mysterious “Warrior” (Lawrence Makoare), a fighter who has ruled the territory for years. Together, they must hunt down Wirepa’s crew in hopes of restoring honor to their people and themselves.

The Dead Lands storyline is about as straightforward as you can get, with just a few twists and turns. Most of it is driven by the uneasy, and sometimes  humorous, relationship between the two leads.

The film  does drag in places, particularly towards the end as the two main characters tackle some unnecessary subplots. Although sparse, there are several memorable fight scenes. Those hoping for a full-on action flick may be disappointed by the fact there are only a handful of set pieces.

The fight scenes that do take place are fast, vicious and brutal. Based on a martial arts called ‘Mau Rakau‘, the scenes are impressively executed. All the action is small-scale, with no more than seven or eight men fighting at a time,

Although somewhat generic, the characters are well-drawn and the folklore is intriguing, which makes The Dead Lands worth checking out.

Review by Dave Smith