Overview: The son of a slain chieftain seeks vengeance following the slaughter of his tribe. General Film Corporation; 2014; Rated R; 107 minutes.
The Warriors: A period of peace is disrupted after a neighboring warrior, Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka) commits a night of red death, annihilating everyone except a few women and Hongi (James Rolleston), who fell unconscious in the surrounding forest. Lacking the experience of a warrior, Hongi heeds the advice of his deceased grandmother and seeks the Monster of the Dead Lands. The ferocity of Maori warriors is often seen embodied in some respect by the All Blacks, a New Zealand rugby team. Their hakas are means to intimidate their opponents. The Dead Lands provides a context of Maori history and culture in a fictional setting. Here, we are able to see a spectrum of warriors from peacekeeping to outright animalistic. The ferocity of the Warrior/Monster of the Dead Lands (Lawrence Makoare) cannot be withheld. His fire is not measured in the volume of his voice, but the depth and growl sprouting from his core. Makoare’s performance overshadows young Rolleston and Tuhaka, reinforcing a demonic force of nature incapable of being defeated by mere man.
Blood and Guts: The tone of The Dead Lands deems the visual effects are to be on the realistic side. The blood and lacerations are noticeably fake in some instances. The fight scenes are central to Mongi’s journey and encounters. Despite these attack scenes, the camera frequently cuts away from the point of contact. A slash and you see the Monster’s face. Impaled by a spear and you see the face of the impaled. A troubling annoyance in working with blood is that it has to be consistent. A gash on the forehead cannot disappear in one second, especially if there is no indication of time passing. Mongi’s training sessions are reduced to one sparring lesson during one encampment. The young Maori warrior did not show enough development to show his wisdom in the final scene. The lack of hyperrealism discredits this movie.
Ink, Cannibalism, and the Dead: The intricate facial tattoos are one of the more recognizable Maori characteristics. Mongi is free from any ink, an indication of his novice warrior status. Amongst other traditions, cannibalism is not unheard of nor is it seen as an atrocity. The act of consuming human flesh transfers the strength and power from the prey to the predator. Cannibalism is more so a conduit of spirituality. The Maori tribesmen are deeply rooted to the earth and their ancestors. Mushrooms, some containing hallucinogenic properties, act as a bridge to speak with deceased ancestors. These various aspects bring perspectives on outside cultures encroaching in to the forefront . In the name of homogeneity, cultures are bound to disappear, even in the most remote forests.
Final Thoughts: As an action/adventure movie, watching The Dead Lands is like taking a walk through the park, uneventful. However, Makoare’s presence saves the integrity of the movie.