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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Dead Lands movie review (London Film Festival)

The Dead Lands red light

A tediously clichéd, overblown, badly acted action flick full of bloody movie violence dressed up in Maori drag.
I’m “biast” (pro): we need more films from cultures all but missing from cinema

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Apparently few films have ever been made entirely in the Maori language… and this one, set in New Zealand at a time before Europeans arrived, would seem to promise a sort of story we haven’t seen much of before, if ever. And so it is an enormous disappointment that The Dead Lands is nothing more than a tediously clichéd, overblown, badly acted action flick full of bloody movie violence dressed up in Maori drag. It starts out promising, with a confrontation between two tribal princes — Hongi (James Rolleston) and Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka) — that speaks to a universal tendency toward manufactured wars egged on by men who itch for battle. But soon it’s nothing but lone Hongi pursuing Wirepa and his small band of fighters through the Dead Lands, a realm haunted by the ghost of a tribe that disappeared overnight… and a flesh-eating monster who takes out anyone who dares to invade its territory. The soulless emptiness of Glenn Standring’s script reduces the spiritual aspects of an ancient civilization into something Avatar-lite (not that Avatar was deep, but it felt more authentic than this, for all that it was about invented aliens, not a real culture), and director Toa Fraser completely fails to capture anything transcendent in his New Zealand locations (The Lord of the Rings did a far better job of making the land look mystical, or even merely beautiful in an earthy way). As warriors line up to fight like they’re in a 1970s kung-fu flick and do some shouting about honor and glory, glory and honor, this becomes yet another cartoon celebration of men’s bullshit justifications for vengeance and murder.

viewed during the 58th BFI London Film Festival


red light half a star

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The Dead Lands (2015)
US/Can release: Apr 17 2015 (VOD same day)
UK/Ire release: May 29 2015 (VOD same day)

MPAA: rated R for brutal bloody violence
BBFC: rated 15 (strong bloody violence)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    The image looks like something Rutger Hauer would have been in in the late 1980s.

    I see two explanations here, neither good: (1) this really is the best the scriptwriter could come up with; (2) there was originally a more interesting story, but it got genericised in order to gain funding.

  • Nat

    I have not seen the movie yet. But the part you describe as lining up and yelling about glory and honour sounds like the Haka http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haka. its a traditional war dance/challenge and is now performed before sporting events. Most famously the Allblacks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56Hb632BCCw New Zealands rugby team. If it is the Haka, describing it as a “cartoon celebration of men’s bullshit justifications for vengeance and murder” would be considered extremely offensive/racist.

  • seriatim

    ” …describing (the haka) as a “cartoon celebration of men’s bullshit justifications for vengeance and murder” would be considered extremely offensive/racist.”
    … yeah, maybe. But it’s bloody refreshing to hear it described that way instead of all the saccharine ‘sacred culture’ crap that usually excuses this glorification of violence and bullying.

  • Nat

    You sound like your straight out of Britain around the turn of the century. “Oh how vulgar these savages are with their little dance.” Come along chaps.

  • seriatim

    Can’t take criticism eh? Come on, man up, mate! Time you got over the colonial cringe!

  • Joana

    An unbalanced and toxic review written by someone who simply is a drag

  • No, that is NOT what I’m referring to.

    If you want to level accusations of racism, they should be aimed at this movie.

  • Jane

    Maori drag? You racist douchbag!

  • Kieran Pauly D Batmayynn

    It sounds like you don’t know anything about nz/Maori culture because if you did then you would know that what they were doing was a war dance and is used to scare the enemy and plays a massive part in the Maori culture, so maybe you need to educate yourself before you criticise people’s cultures just because you don’t understand it. Your a racist, I feel sorry for Maori people that have to read this simple minded racist bs

  • I promise you, I am NOT referring to a war dance.

  • Joana

    Totally agree with Kieran, I wrote a comment earlier but this reviewer MaryAnn Johanson deleted it – funny, if only we could delete her narrow minded toxic review with no credible constructive criticism, just toxic racist rants. She has no understanding of this movie, the subject matter and her review is completely out of touch – Can’t believe this is her job. MaryAnn, go see a KKK movie that would be right up your racist ally.

  • MrsLisa Martin

    I am a Maori from New Zealand and I must admit that I am very offended by most of the comments on this blog. If i were to share this on my fb page i can promise you that you would probably get alot of upset comments!
    MaryAnn to me you are very racist ! It was a haka (tradional maori war dance) that is used to intimidate enemies. Why would we make a “racist” movie aimed at the indiginious people of our country, with nearly all of the actors being Maori themselves? Do your homework lady, before running your racist mouth! I think I will share this blog or screenshot it and show the rest of my fellow new zealanders how you have slandered our country and traditions!!!! Your review sucks big time!!!! Grrrr

  • MrsLisa Martin

    I am a Maori from New Zealand and I must admit that I am very offended by most of the comments on this blog. If i were to share this on my fb page i can promise you that you would probably get alot of upset comments!
    MaryAnn to me you are very racist ! It was a haka (tradional maori war dance) that is used to intimidate enemies. Why would we make a “racist” movie aimed at the indiginious people of our country, with nearly all of the actors being Maori themselves? Do your homework lady, before running your racist mouth! I think I will share this blog or screenshot it and show the rest of my fellow new zealanders how you have slandered our country and traditions!!!! Your review sucks big time!!!! Grrrr

  • MrsLisa Martin

    go join the kkk, you sound like a racist dick. The haka isnt sacred (some can be though) its a tradional war dance. Its a pity you arent in new zealand now. You would shit your pants if you saw one being done live right in front of you. #ProudMaori
    #ILoveMyCountry
    #EatADick

  • MrsLisa Martin

    Thankyou for stucking up for my culture. It means alot :)

  • seriatim

    ?? I AM in NZ! And like most kiwis have seen plenty of haka, and they bore me to death.

  • seriatim

    A lot of people tolerate a lot of other people’s cultures, but respecting them doesn’t mean they have to LIKE them – and that’s something Maori have got to grow up and understand – and accept. Plenty of Maori are openly critical of Pakeha culture! And that’s OK. Like I say man up guys!

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