11 May 2015

THE DEAD LANDS (/SLASH 1/2 Mini-Festival, 2015)

THE DEAD LANDS

New Zealand / UK, 2014
Director: Toa Fraser

8/10











My knowledge about New Zealand is rather sparse. I know a lot  about New Zealandian cinema, I know a bit about the politics and infrastructure of New Zealand - that's about it. Māori? Whoops, that's something European schools don't teach you about - which is actually pretty sad, because now that I've seen my first Māori-themed film, I definitely wanna know more about this fascinating culture... and of course, I will file a petition to the Austrian Ministry of Education asking to change the curriculum: more New Zealand and Australia, less Roman Empire and first World War. That's that. ;)


"The Dead Lands" is the fourth feature of Britain-born filmmaker Toa Fraser ("Dean Spanley"), an epic and action-packed revenge story about Hongi, teenage son of a Māori chieftain who tries to avenge the murder of his father and the slaughter of his tribe by going into the feared and forbidden "Dead Lands" to team up with a mysterious, legendary and ruthless warrior...

No, the story isn't exactly original, and parts of the film are even highly foreseeable. However, in this case, that didn't annoy me a bit because "The Dead Lands" is such an amazingly well made film, I couldn't care less about any revenge-film clichés or well-trodden code-of-honour tropes. From start to finish, I was intrigued and riveted by all the believable and surprisingly complex characters, all the beautiful landscapes, Leon Narbey's ("The Tattooist") excellent camera work and the powerful, bombastic and simply staggering soundtrack by New Zealand multi-instrumentalist Don McGlashan.


There's lots of badass fight scenes with rarely-seen Māori weapons, breathtakingly choreographed and executed. Far from being as gob-smacking as the fighting in "The Raid", but in some kinda way similarly enthralling, at least that's how I felt about it, especially about the incredible scene where the young boy and the old warrior fight against an entire tribe at some forest glade. I sat there, eyes and mouth wide open, completely mesmerised by the breathtaking
martial arts awesomeness.

The best thing about "The Dead Lands" is definitely the fantastic acting, especially the awesome chemistry between youngster James Rolleston and Māori actor Lawrence Makoare who is probably best known for his performances in several "Middle Earth" films ("Fellowship of the Ring" / "Return of the King" / "Desolation of Smaug") and several episodes of "Xena" & "Young Hercules".
The film is great in the beginning, but it really gets going halfway into when Rolleston and Makoare finally meet up, forming an unlikely, yet highly interesting and somehow splendidly well-paired revenge team. You can rant about the films's unoriginality as much as you want, but you have to admit that those two characters are probably two of the most fascinating ones the action/action-related genre has ever seen. Also great: super-hot
Māori babe Raukura Turei and tough guy Te Kohe Tuhaka.


Entertaining. Thrilling. Action-packed. A real blast from Kiwi country, and next to recent NZ-films like "Housebound" or "What We Do In The Shadows", another example of how awesome New Zealand's current movie output is.
Who needs Peter Jackson anyway?

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