In 2014 writer Glenn Standring (The Irrefutable Truth About Demons) and director Toa Fraser (6 Days) gave us The Dead Lands a violent tale of revenge among the Maori tribes. I picked the DVD up on a whim and was impressed by its action scenes and the sound of the Maori language. There was talk of a sequel or possibly a show spun off from it. And then nothing. Fraser relocated to Hollywood and found success working on shows like Wu Assassin and NOS4A2. I wrote off any chance of a followup.
Of course I was wrong. In 2018 Shudder announced they had made a deal for an eight-episode series written by Standring. It was set in the same world as the movie, but involving different characters. Now the question was would it live up to the original film?
Waka Nuku Rau (Te Kohe Tuhaka) is a warrior with a problem, the afterlife doesn’t want him. He was murdered or at least thought he was. But he was deemed unworthy of the next world, something that being a cannibal and shitting in the skulls of your enemies can cause to happen. He’s sent back to Earth to find redemption. But the world has changed in the brief time he was gone. It seems somebody has broken the world. The dead are now trapped in their bodies and attacking the living.
He’s recruited by Mehe (Darneen Christain) to rescue her father who has been kidnapped by the dead. This leads to a quest to find the person responsible for what is happening. According to the spirit of his mother Turika (Vicky Haughton) that’s the only way to be accepted by his ancestors. Of course, she also says he needs to sacrifice Mehe and drink her blood.
The Dead Lands is more than just another variation on The Walking Dead. The walking dead here aren’t mindless zombies. They’re fast and can fight and use weapons. They’re also not the only dead the living have to contend with. The spirits of the dead can talk to the living. But just because they’re your ancestors or even your mother, it doesn’t mean you can trust them.
The Maori culture and folklore that form the basis for The Dead Lands is a nice change from the modern-day setting of most genre shows. Or the fantasy medieval Europe of Game of Thrones and its imitators for that matter. It was a fascinating world in the original film, that addition of the supernatural in the show just makes it all the more so. I do wish they had filmed the show in the Maori language like the did the film. However, I understand the reasoning for the change. But it does take something away from the overall feel of it.
I also know a large part of the audience won’t give a damn about what language it’s in as long as there’s plenty of action. And there is. The Maoris weapons-based fighting art, Mau rākau is frequently on display. Waka was one of the most feared warriors in the land before his demise and Mehe is a fast learner. Which is good as there are plenty of undead, (the word zombie is never used), to fight off. Plus an assortment of humans with their own agendas.
While there’s still no word on whether or not there will be a second season, RJLE Films will make The Dead Lands available to those who don’t subscribe to Shudder on various digital platforms starting June 8th.