The Dead Lands
Director: Toa Fraser
Release Date: April 17, 2015 (VOD and limited release)
Hongi (James Rolleston) is the lone survivor of an attack by another tribe that led to the death of his Chieftan father and the rest of his tribe. With the rival killer, Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka), still traversing the lands, Hongi heads to The Dead Lands in search of a mysterious being known for his fighting prowess. When Hongi meets the Warrior (Lawrence Makoare), their unusual relationship builds towards a camaraderie in which Hongi is able to channel his inner strength. However, Wirepa and his tribe are ruthless, posing a serious threat to the outnumbered Hongi and Warrior in a time when ruthless savagery goes a long way.
The Dead Lands‘ biggest selling point is its setting in pre-Colonial New Zealand, as well as its focus on the Maori, a group of indigenous New Zealanders. The film offers a rare glimpse at different aspects of Maori culture, like their religion, language, traditions, and especially their martial arts. While the fight scenes are exciting, they’re few and far apart with a story that’s rife with cliches and stereotypes about revenge, adulthood, father/son dynamics, lone wolves, enigmatic entities… the list goes on and on.
The Dead Lands would have benefited by either focusing on the action elements or the dramatic/spiritual elements. I understand some type of narrative or backstory was important to link the fight scenes together, but as we’ve seen in recent years, an action film can be light on story and still be entertaining and successful in spite of a weak narrative (re: The Raid: Redemption). The decision to include more backstory could be due to wanting to highlight and illustrate a culture that hasn’t been in the spotlight, but the film feels too unfocused because of it.