Creator: Glenn Standring
Directors: Peter Burger and Michael Hurst
Writer: Glenn Standring
Starring: Te Kohe Tuhaka and Darneen Christian
The series features a murdered Māori warrior, Waka Nuku Rau (Te Kohe Tuhaka), who’s sent back to the world of the living to redeem his sins. But the world Waka returns to is ravaged by a breach between Life and Afterlife as the spirits of the newly dead now stalk the land and hunt the living. Initial Reaction C. I may be the only one of the three of us that has seen the movie prior to watching the series. While I try my best to go into every adaptation or remake considering it as its own work, there was hesitation based on the film’s plot. The film (also The Dead Lands) in ways could be considered the Māori version of something like True Grit. A young person hiring a great warrior to get revenge on the group that killed their father. My worry was that idea can work (ex. Blade of the Immortal) as a series but has a timeline before you find yourself repeating or getting into filler territory. I can fortunately say that while the initial premise is there, the series’ version diverts into a story that allows much more expansion worthy of multiple seasons. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of series/epics from my youth like Xena, Hercules, Lord of the Rings through the lens of the Indiginous peoples (before European influence), but I had a blast. It’s fun, brutal, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and accessible to general audiences yet doesn’t bog itself down in unnecessary exposition to explain the culture. The actors and world feel authentic and “lived-in,” avoiding the trap of many series that cast hot, young up-and-comers for international appeal. I admit it doesn’t go without criticism as there are lines and insults thrown out that probably had the intention of sounding badass but ultimately make the dialogue clunky. This also relates to the themes being on-the-nose throughout, as there’s some repetition of characters discussing freewill, breaking archaic traditions, etc. However, based on the type of show it’s easily forgivable and many won’t notice unless you’re tasked with writing a review. Actually as I look through my notes that’s really the only major critique I have. The marketing for the series is “Ash vs. the Evil Dead meets Xena,” that comparison instantly targets it’s intended audience, and I happen to be one of them to answer the call. The Dead Lands is an epic tale of honor in a land with very little left, even among the dead, and after these episodes I’ll follow their journey. J. If I had to imagine someone pitching this show it would go like this: “It’s Conan The Barbarian and Red Sonja meets The Evil Dead. That’s it folks. I don’t know how that wouldn’t be of some interest considering I’ve never heard of or seen anything that melds those classics together. I don’t want to get too much into plot stuff considering we only saw the first three episodes but the newly dead that stalk the Earth are very similar to The Deadites. Black eyes, ferocious as all hell, hard to kill and they taunt the living by imitating dead fathers. Sound familiar? Not surprisingly, only beheadings seem to do the trick. And Waka and Mehe are doing the beheadings with what essentially amounts to a goddamn spatula so that shit is bloody and takes some time! The actors are all terrific and adapt to the period setting well. I like that unlike Conan, these people all have bodies that seem to match the nutrition they must have been afforded. The perfect, pearly white teeth might be a bit much but whatever. Episodes 1-3 were all interesting and presented our heroes with new and exciting conflicts and goals and nothing was ever repeated. Yes, the dead are present in all of them and are a threat but that aspect is sort of weeded out as we moved to episode three. There’s possessions, there’s double crossing, piece of shit uncles, there’s witches, there’s a lot going on and a lot to unpack here! The relationship between Waka and Mehe is sort of been done before in that, she looks up to him but he thinks she’s annoying but we know pretty quickly that he doesn’t really feel that way about her, it’s just a tough guy front. The chemistry is well done and there’s even some mild humor in it that was well received, at least by me. I had a great time with these first episodes and when it ended I was a little sad that I would have to wait to see how the adventure plays out. If you like Conan, Red Sonja and definitely Xena mixed with Deadites, you’ll wanna check out The Dead Lands. K. I didn’t catch the film version of this series, so I came in not knowing much about the plot and the world. As Craig and Josh have already pointed out it’s a bit of a throwback to the Xena and Hercules shows from the ‘90s (which I used to watch everyday after school), but with a touch more darkness and grit. The ancient Maori culture is an interesting and fresh world to set the story in, and they waste no time getting into the action with undead warriors all over the place. The acting is solid throughout, particularly that of the two leads: Waka played by Te Kohe Tuhaka and Mehe played by Darneen Christian. As Josh mentioned their odd couple pairing is nothing new, but the chemistry between the two actors makes it work. I’d echo Craig in saying that some of the dialogue and story beats tend to be a bit on the nose, but the show moves at a quick pace so that wasn’t much of an issue. I would say being a fan of early Peter Jackson films, Taika Waititi and Flight of the Conchords, it’s difficult to hear a New Zealand accent and not expect a certain kiwi sense of humor, but sadly that was a little lacking in my opinion. So I found the Ash vs. Evil Dead comparisons to be off the mark. But if any of what we mentioned sounds like your bag, I’d dive into The Dead Lands when it hits Shudder!
Response C. I think we all came to a similar conclusion, that for its target audience The Dead Lands will work wonders. However, that audience will be fans of fantasy series from the 80s and 90s. Thanks to the culture and mythology any potential cliche plot devices play fresh. They don’t fall into the trap of making obvious throwback references to their influences that take away from the series as its own world/story/etc. I credit the series with a strong artistic voice in a genre that, while there’s major hits, can fall into campy territory quickly. As Kyle stated, it isn’t Ash vs the Evil Dead, so I wouldn’t go in expecting the over-the-top violence and gags that are associated with the iconic franchise. There are demons that share elements with the deadites but that’s about as close as you’ll get. While I understand the comparison for promotional purposes I know it may deter individuals that go in expecting the Māori version of Ash. Traditionally as we’ve done this style of reviewing, I've found I lose some excitement. Usually my initial reviews are more forgiving and filled with a sense of wonder that comes with watching something, then this section is where I get critical. My opinion hasn’t changed with this. As someone who isn’t a binger, I will follow this because I am their target audience. Hell, even younger me would prefer it over Hercules and Xena. J. The production values are pretty high, I didn’t notice or catch a lot of CGI bullshit either, so it was non-existent or too well done to notice or care. This series is another example of Shudder killin’ it and bringing something a touch familiar and also a touch different for genre fans. If you’re a fan of the big influences you’ll have fun with The Dead Lands. I’m still sad I had to stop watching after the first three episodes. K. I would agree with Craig. If you’re into old school fantasy fare with a new twist, you should definitely check it out. It’s good to see Shudder continuing to produce their own content and branching out into new genres.