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Series Review (Pilot): “The Dead Lands” Takes a Mystical Approach to Exploring the Undead

Written by: Matt Patti | June 7th, 2020

Series poster: “The Dead Lands”

The Dead Lands: Episode 1 – “Tell the Dead I’m Coming(Showrunner = Glenn Standring; Director = Peter Meteherangi Tikao Burger, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.

When I was younger, I was a huge enthusiast of world history and, more specifically, tribal warriors. One of my favorite shows was Spike TV’s Deadliest Warrior, in which two warriors (often from different locations and time periods) were pitted against each other in a computer simulation to find the winner, with the stats based on actual tests of each warrior’s weapons on test dummies designed to be as close to a human body as possible. It was this show that introduced me to the Maori Warrior, native to New Zealand, who makes weapons out of the materials around them and often eats the enemies they kill. What is most intriguing to me about these warriors is their use of resources available to them, often making weapons out of stingrays, shark teeth, and, most commonly, jade. Already a fan of these resourceful and ruthless warriors, I was looking forward to viewing The Dead Lands, a new supernatural fantasy series taking place in New Zealand, featuring the ancient Maori warriors who face terrifying, evil-dead Maori creatures.

The Dead Lands series is based on showrunner Glenn Standring’s 2014 film of the same name (which he wrote and produced). In the pilot episode, “Tell the Dead I’m Coming,” we meet Waka, a Maori warrior who was killed but has returned from the afterlife. He tries to enter the gate back into the afterlife but is not granted re-entry. He explores his old home in the New Zealand forests where other Maori reside, but soon finds zombie-like Maori warriors who attack him. He discovers a girl living underground named Mehe and attempts to escort her to safety. After fighting several evil-dead Maori, Waka finds that the reason for the existence of these evil dead is that the afterlife has been disconnected from the real world, leaving the dead to roam aimlessly and angrily on earth. Waka and Mehe must now attempt to discover the source of this disconnect and restore the bridge between the world of the living and the dead to rid the earth of these creatures.

As an aforementioned fan of the Maori warriors and their history/rituals, I was pleased by the accuracy of this series. The Maori warriors in the show all act just as the real ones did, according to many accounts. Their battle cry, movements, and intimidation tactics (such as sticking their tongues out in battle to signify “I will eat you”) are all done very well here. The look of the warriors is also very well done and accurate, with many tattoos and symbols painted on their bodies. Many of their classic weapons are showcased here as well. It is clear much research was done in order to make these people seem as realistic to their history as possible.

L-R: Darneen Christian (as Mehe) and Te Kohe Tuhaka (as Waka) in THE DEAD LANDS ©Shudder

The cinematography in this series is impressive, with large sweeping shots of the forests of New Zealand and interesting color schemes. Many of the environment shots remind me of James Cameron’s Avatar. These astounding visuals help paint a picture of a real, yet fantasy-like, world in which the story takes place.

The characters are the only aspect of the series I’m a bit unsure about. Waka and Mehe are clearly defined, and recognizable. However, other characters in the pilot are barely distinguishable. This could be due to the fact that the Maori warriors here all look very similar, wearing similar attire and hairstyles, and sporting tattoos. As mystical and unorthodox as the Maori culture is, the characters, when not engaged in combat, are very recognizable and human-like, often having normal conversations. While this makes for good character development and enables the audience to have a connection to the characters, sometimes it seems a bit unrealistic and confusing when a fierce warrior growling and intimidating his opponent then talks like an average man and has lengthy conversations. There are also times when some of the screams and growls seem a bit overdone, bordering on laughable, but there are other times when they are downright scary.

Overall, Episode 1 of The Dead Lands hits most of the marks I’d hoped it would. The Maori warriors are presented accurately, the zombie-like evil-dead Maori are quite scary and dangerous, and the cinematography is exquisite. It’s too early to tell how the characters will pan out, but I think Waka and Mehe’s relationship will only strengthen and can become a subject of much intrigue. I like the refreshing story in that this isn’t like your typical “zombie” movie where the mission is to just slaughter all the evil dead; instead, it’s more of a mission to help these dead Maori get to the afterlife and discover the disconnect between the world of the living and the dead. I think that driving goal makes the series much more interesting. If you’re one who is interested in ancient warriors and tribes or are looking for a more mystical take on the living dead, The Dead Lands looks to be an intriguing adventure.

Darneen Christian (as Mehe) in THE DEAD LANDS ©Shudder

[The Dead Lands comes out on VOD June 8.]


Matt Patti has enjoyed voicing his opinions on films from a young age. He has lived in the Baltimore, Maryland, area since 2015 and is a graduate of Stevenson University’s Film & Moving Image program. Matt recently returned to Stevenson and is currently working there as the School of Design's Studio Manager.

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