The Dead Lands (2014)

The Dead Lands
Director: Toa Fraser
Writer: Glenn Standring
Cast: James Rolleston, Lawrence Makoare, Te Kohe Tuhaka, Xavier Horan, Raukura Turei, George Henare, Rena Owen
Part of: /slash Filmfestival
Seen on: 01.05.2015
[Reviews by cornholio and Maynard.]

Hongi (James Rolleston) lives with his tribe in the rainforest of New Zealand. When representatives of a neighboring tribe led by Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka) come to visit a shared holy site and pay respects to their ancestors, Hongi witnesses how Wirepa defiles that site, but then tries to blame it on Hongi and his people. Hongi’s account is enough to avoid all-out war, but it doesn’t keep from Wirepa returning and slaughtering Hongi’s entire tribe anyway. Hongi manages to escape and heads deep into the woods, to find the infamous Warrior (Lawrence Makoare) to be able to take his revenge on Wirepa.

I was really looking forward to this film (in fact, S. and I joked about the fact that this was probably the chick flick of this spring /slash – with all those half-naked, tattooed guys running around), but I was a little disappointed – apart from the cool and unusual setting, the film had very little to offer.


Getting a film that is set entirely within the Maori culture and filmed entirely in Maori is something special indeed [I was a little thrown by Xavier Horan, but I gather that he is white-passing rather than actually white], and for that alone, I can only try and push people to watch the film as it gives you the possibility to get a glimpse into a world that is really very different from Austria/Europe.

And with that the film does a really good job: you get a short introduction into spirituality, honor code and general values, the conflicts are quickly sketched out and it never feels like you’re missing a cultural frame of reference to understand what’s going on. Though it was a little disorienting that I couldn’t place the film in a certain time period. The story could have been 500 years ago or 300 years in the future, and everything in between.

thedeadlands1But the setting isn’t the only thing the film to offer: it also has beautiful cinematography and pretty cool fight scenes – although they left me surprisingly cold. I usually get really excited about well choreographed and shot hand to hand combat, which was certainly what we got in the film. But somehow I couldn’t really get into it.

Maybe because the film had its lengths (though it is just as possible that it had its lengths because I couldn’t get into it) and the plot was just so stereotypical (daddy issues! revenge! boy becoming man!). I just needed a little more to fall in love witht he film.

thedeadlands2Summarizing: Give it a try, if only for the cultural experience.

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