The Dead Lands - Episodes 1-3 TV Episode Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Shudder
Directed by Peter Meteherangi and Tikao Burger
Written by Glenn Standring
2020, approximately 45 minutes per episode, Not Rated
Premiered on Shudder on January 23rd, 2020
Te Kohe Tuhaka as Waka Nuku Rau
Darneen Christian as Mehe
Richard Te Are as Tui
Briar Rose as Wana
Kali Kopae as Hine
One of the coolest aspects of the Horror Renaissance we are all enjoying is the growing diversity within the genre. It’s not just T&A, stabbings, gut-munching, possessions, and splatter anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I love ALL those things! Still, it’s inspiring to see the genre grow to include different lifestyles, points of view, time periods, and cultures. Horror is a universal language, after all – there’s no reason it should be confined to one flavor.
We’ve been inundated with the classic “Indian burial ground” stereotype in horror (not to mention the titular male hero), but modern horror is giving us more of the voices we haven’t heard as much from – women, LGBTQ, African American, and indigenous peoples. It’s kind of a shame that we’re only recently grasping the depth of terror found therein.
Can we take a minute to thank Shudder for taking a strong step towards screwing up your psyche and capturing your imagination with the fiercely original Maori horror/fantasy television series, The Dead Lands?
Waka Nuku Rau (Te Kohe Tuhaka; A War Story) is a wicked and vicious Maori warrior. When he’s slain, he finds himself unable to cross over and is sent back to the world of the living to redeem his sins. The barrier between the two lands is closed, and the dead are rising, as “the world has been broken”. With the help of a fiercely determined young woman named Mehe (newcomer Darneen Christian), Waka will face both the horrors of a world being besieged by the unrested dead and the treacheries of man that brought the problem about in the first place, all while trying to decide if his own soul is worth saving.
If that seems like a lot to chew on, well…it is. Waka is a protagonist who’s nobody’s hero. In life, he was an unrepentantly savage killing machine who lived a life without honor. Mehe, on the other hand, is a strong woman born into a position of subservience who’s determined to make her own name. They make a hell of a pair, and the chemistry between the two leads is natural and surprisingly fun to watch (even in a grim setting). That’s important because you’re pulling for them both early on throughout some heavy obstacles.
Ambitious in its scope, The Dead Lands also has plenty to say thematically. Many characters complicate matters and create issues by clinging to outdated or fanatical beliefs for the sake of tradition or hierarchy. Mehe is a powerhouse held down by patriarchal structure. There’s a line that rings painfully true and relevant to the day and age we find ourselves in today when Mehe says, “If what you believe in makes you do terrible things, then you need to change the belief.”
Who says horror and fantasy have nothing to say?
The Dead Lands is a visual treat as well. Set in an unspecified past in Aoteoroa (the Maori name for New Zealand), that famous countryside is the perfect setting for dark fantasy with a violent, horrific edge. The cinematography is first-rate, with no shortage of breathtaking contrasts of light and dark. The series features authoritative Maori control both in front of and behind the camera, so it always feels authentic. The costume design alone puts you right in the action.
The horror side of the story isn’t over the top, but it is deft in the little touches. The returned dead are sinister and physically vicious with their obsidian eyes and blackish blood. The red eyes with jet black pupils on the possessed are a nice touch, and there are enough graphic throat slashings and beheadings to let you know it’s not just a work of pure fantasy. Throw in some heavy doses of Mau Rakau (a Maori martial art) for the fight sequences and you get another layer to this genre sandwich. It all blends rather wonderfully and will give you the fix you’re looking for – be it horror, fantasy, or action.
I was given the first three episodes of an eight-episode first season. I tore through those three with both my wife and daughter, and we were all frankly disappointed that we didn’t have access to more. Needless to say, I know what I’ll be digging into on my days off this weekend. I was left on a bit of cliffhanger, you see.
I need to know who broke the world and why they did it. I really do.
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