The Dead Lands DVD Review

DVD Review by Li-Ming Hu
The Dead Lands

The Premise
After his tribe is slaughtered through an act of treachery, Hongi, a Maori chieftain's teenage son, must avenge his father's murder in order to bring peace and honor to the souls of his loved ones. Vastly outnumbered by a band of villains, Hongi's only hope is to pass through the feared and forbidden Dead Lands and forge an uneasy alliance with the mysterious Warrior, a ruthless fighter who has ruled the area for years.

The Review
I’m not really one for action films and it is to The Dead Lands’ credit that I sat through the whole thing without realising I was watching one. Not that there aren't plenty of impressive action sequences that showcase the Maori martial art of Mau Rākau to maximum effect. It’s just that the film has such a gripping story, which the action scenes added to rather than distracting from, as is often the case in lesser films. Maybe it’s also the novelty of seeing Maori martial arts in an actual combat setting, as opposed to say, the snippets we see wheeled out by the All Blacks before every game. And call me sentimental, but it’s also pretty special to have a historical epic (with a sprinkling of the supernatural) set in pre colonial Aotearoa, featuring an all Maori cast, speaking Te Reo.

Glenn Standring’s script will keep you guessing to the end, and is served well by strong performances across the board. James Rolleston (Hongi) and Te Kohe Tuhaka (Wirepa) both do well in their respective roles of reluctant hero and maniacal villain, but what makes the Dead Lands a cut above the regular revenge saga is the addition of the mysterious “Warrior” character, and here Lawrence Makoare more than proves he is the right man for the job. His powerful physical presence and mixture of pathos and humour make the most of the role of the enigmatic warrior with a dark secret. There are shades of Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz when Hongi first meets the Warrior in his lair, and the relationship between the two is the most compelling in the film. There are some fine comic moments; a scene where the Warrior gives Hongi fighting tips while hacking off a human arm for dinner is particularly memorable.  Xavier Horan (who also appeared with Rolleston in The Dark Horse) is also arse-kickingly excellent as Wirepa’s more measured second in command Rangi, while Rena Owen and Raukura Turei provide memorable cameos in what is essentially a male-centred story.

The Verdict
An absorbing action epic with incredible fights, characters you care about and a great story. Go see it.

The Trailer

The Info
DVD Releases:15th April 2015
Rating: R16 – Contains graphic violence
Duration: 107 minutes 
Genre:  Drama
Starring: James Rolleston, Lawrence Makoare, Te Kohe Tuhaka
Director: Toa Fraser (Giselle)

The Extras
Official submission of New Zealand to the best foreign language film category of the 87th Academy Awards 2015.