Shudder’s Original Series The Dead Lands Provides A Gory Vehicle For Maori Culture
The Dead Lands is a wholly immersive experience for fans of gory epic fairy tales. It’s brutal enough to bite your arm off and then wipe its ass with it.
Shudder’s latest original work The Dead Lands is sepia gloriousness intended for fans of epic tales. Kind of a mash-up of Into The Badlands, Netflix’s The Witcher, and Apple TV +’s See. The grisly fable is disgusting and raw. It’s not for the faint of heart or easily offended because it doesn’t give a f@$k. The tale of redemption is told from the perspective of someone who really needs to atone. When we first meet The Warrior he is fighting with his enemies and defecating on their dead skulls. Within minutes of the first episode, he is murdered and ordered back into the world of the living to find honor. He sure doesn’t seem like a very redeemable guy at first.
At its heart, it is a basic story of two warring tribes and a mythical cannibalistic undead warrior. Think about that for a minute. The hero is a cannibal zombie and a bit of a dick. It should be offputting but isn’t for one singular reason. Waka Nuku Rau played cheekily by Te Kohe Tuhaka is all-male machismo and veined muscle. He knows exactly what kind of story he is in and makes no apologies for the kind of character he plays. As such, there is a level of humor throughout the script and performances that keep things from becoming too self-serious.
That level of commitment allows Waku Nuku Rau to be engaging and, at times, funny even while doing vile things. When our heroine Mehe’s (Darneen Christain)father gets kidnapped she seeks out the help of our cannibal hero. Mehe is young, determined, and naive. She is a completely likable character to spell Waka Nuku Rau’s less desirable personality.
The decision to work together sets them on a course for a wild adventure across the picturesque New Zealand countryside. They must find out who or what has broken The Afterlife causing the dead to be tossed back into their bodies and forced to hunt the living. Together they must fix the Afterlife and save the world. Along the way, they meet guides, family members, and lots and lots of zombies.
It’s a weird world with an even weirder set of rules. This is a place and a people like none other. The dead drool black goo and traverse the countryside looking to kill and eat people and your best hope is another cannibal. There are times it is difficult to tell who is more vicious the undead or the living. Everyone wears amazing costumes with colorful animal hides and feathers. Warriors beat each other with elongated ping pong paddles and use the word f$%k, a lot. To say it’s jarring is an understatement. You just don’t expect modern curse words to come out of the mouths of these mythical fighters. Somehow, someway the speech patterns begin to make sense as the story unfolds.
Wide-angle shots make the most of a gorgeous landscape. New Zealand has amazing untouched landscapes. The Dead Lands makes the most of them. Wide sweeping shots of rolling hills, mountains, and forests fill the screen with beauty even among the blood and brutality. In much the same way that Into The Badlands used its settings to make fight scenes more creative and build the world from the ground up, The Dead Lands uses its rich traditions and natural resources to make things real.
The first series to tackle the Maori culture, The Dead Lands is steeped in mythology, symbolism, and patriarchy. This is a very macho place. There is not a man on the screen without a massive chest and an even bigger dick. Just ask them. The warring factions, alive or otherwise don’t just fight, they seek to destroy. These warriors grunt, spit, shit, and spew insults as inventive as any high school student. Between fight scenes they bandy about slurs including a particularly quirky comment about packing a uterus with dirt to ensure the family line ends. There is a specificity to the look, feel and, sound of this world. To say there is a fair amount of defecating and decapitating would be an understatement. All of that being said, this is a world like nothing you have ever seen.
Battle scenes are massive and audacious. as befitting the art itself. The ancient martial art of Mau Rakau is used to full effect. It is a very physical discipline that requires a massive amount of strength and body control. The mostly Maori cast and crew ensured every detail is lovingly brought to the screen. It was important to preserve the sanctity of the past. That intent shows in the all-encompassing complexity of the tale and the people in it. In addition to cinematography, sound design is gorgeous with a mix of music that is lilting and illustrative. Similar to Irish ballads the songs tell a story and paint a picture.
The Dead Lands achieves a delicate balancing act between grotesque and gorgeous. It’s a tough thing to do. Nowhere else but Shudder would dare to present something so audacious and weird. When it works it really works. When it doesn’t it is still really interesting. What more could you ask for? The first two episodes dropped today and the remaining six will release weekly. If you haven’t subscribed to Shudder already now is a perfect opportunity. Use this link to get a free 30-day trial. If you are looking for more great suggestions from Shudder’s huge library click here.
As the Television Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.