Premiering with some degree of fanfare at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, The Dead Lands arrives on the scene with some very special attributes that make it a worthwhile proposition, if not an entirely original story. While some of the seams occasionally loosen too much for one’s liking, director Toa Fraser nevertheless bridges together, with relative success, various distinct ingredients, such as the tried, tested and true revenge tale, the martial arts genre, and, finally, a slightly different angle from which said revenge plot is shared, that being the perspective of traditional Maori culture.
Cinema rarely looks to events of a pre-biblical vintage, but a mini-genre of pre-civilisation survival pictures does exist for those who pray to the old ones. The first instance of this primitive return to our roots which spears our interest was Clan of the Cave Bear, mysteriously directed by frequent Scorsese cinematographer Michael Chapman. More recently Kevin Reynolds took us on a adventure to Easter Island with Rapa Nui, and Roland Emmerich’s credibility was crushed with 10,000 BC, whilst the more seriously minded Nicolas Winding Refn added his brooding masculinity to the genre with his monosyllabic Valhalla Rising. Perhaps the highest profile film in the prehistoric swaps of survival is Mel Gibson’s brutal Apocalypto, which seemed to have been culled from the video game techniques of peril and boss fights rather than the historical archive of the local Natural History museum, with a colonial conclusion that left a bitter taste in the mouth.