Movie Review: THE DEAD LANDS Takes Lots Of Lives

If you like seeing guys get paddled to the face, this is the movie for you.

The Dead Lands isn’t really going for narrative complexity or originality. There aren’t many wrinkles or left turns to surprise viewers with even a little movie knowledge behind them. And yet it is somewhat unique thanks to its setting. You may have seen this plot a hundred times, but I doubt you’ve seen it with Maori warriors hitting each other in the face with paddles for two hours. Even if you have, I’m sure it was only once or twice. Maybe three times. Surely there’s room for one more.

Two formerly-warring Maori tribes exist within a time of shaky peace. There’s a good tribe and a bad tribe. The main guy in the bad tribe says “Fuck all this peace stuff” and goes out of his way to restart violent conflict. This leads to the good tribe getting wiped out save for one wimpy guy. The wimpy guy must travel to some forbidden lands to enlist the aid of a legendary demon warrior-type guy for revenge. His name is The Warrior. The two team up and go kick some ass.

That’s basically all you need to know. Whether you enjoy the film or not will depend on how interesting you find Maori culture and warfare. The film exhibits a lot of both. It’s not quite as bloody as it should be, and it’s nowhere near as propulsive as its plot would have you believe, but it’s still a high quality effort.

The main thing to take away from The Dead Lands is Lawrence Makoare’s performance as The Warrior. Cute little young guy isn’t the most compelling lead, so it’s nice that he gets some help. In fact, a lot of these actors kind of look like modern day club goers with fancy haircuts. But Makoare is the real deal. Once he shows up, the film improves a great deal. In addition to fighting his ass off, The Warrior has a whole lot of personal drama to get through, and the actor sells both sides of the character. He’s sad, and he’s terrifying.

This isn’t quite up to the level of something like Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, but other than the fact that it’s a bit too long, that’s not really The Dead Lands’ fault. It’s not really going for that Apocalypto vibe, though people are obviously going to reach for that film as a comparison point. Instead of reveling in violence, The Dead Lands wants to tell a real story with real drama. On that score, it succeeds at times and fails at others, but when it comes paddling people in the face, it does a pretty good job.

The Dead Lands hits theater and VOD April 17.