The Dead Lands
Directed by Toa Fraser
Starring James Rolleston, Lawrence Makoare, Te Kohe Tuhaka, Xavier Horan and Rena Owen
Hongi, a Maori chieftain’s teenage son, must avenge his father’s murder in order to bring peace and honour to the souls of his loved ones after his tribe is slaughtered through an act of treachery. Vastly outnumbered by a band of villains led by Wirepa, Hongi’s only hope is to pass through the feared and forbidden “Dead Lands” and forge an uneasy alliance with a mysterious warrior, a ruthless fighter who has ruled the area for years.
See more films
★★★½ review by Naughty aka Juli Norwood on Letterboxd
Film #4 of the "Scavenger Hunt 2" Challenge!
Task #7 : A film about indigenous people!
Maori warriors in film are a rather rare commodity so I couldn't pass this up! The Maori martial arts was well choreographed and brutally graphic and makes up a large portion of the film!
I see it as past warriors meets future warriors! The past was all about things that instigated war.. honor, nobility, politics! Whereas the future is more cerebral, philosophical and has enough wisdom to realize war does nothing but begets other wars!
The young Maori chieftain seeking revenge at the tender age of 16 must not only become a great Maori warrior but obtain the wisdom necessary to become an even greater chieftain!
★★★★ review by Tarryn-tino on Letterboxd
I am a proud New Zealander, proud to be Māori, an avid historian and a film fanatic. So going into a film like this is always going to be an interesting situation for me.
First of all I will start off by saying that I think it is an amazing achievement to get a feature length film onto the big screen completely in te reo Māori. This is an giant leap forward for our country and for the revitalization of the Māori language and I could not be happier that to see this happen and look forward to further developments in regards to this.
Second, I think all the cast, especially Lawrence Makoare, did a superb job. Makoare is always an imposing figure in whatever role he takes on, but he took this role to another level that I haven't seen from him before. James Rolleston is also going from strength to strength and I think he has a fantastic career ahead of him.
My criticisms lie in the accuracy of what was portrayed in the film. Much of the costume seemed 'Hollywoodised', if you get my drift. It was over the top and not all authentic, as far as I am aware. Even some of the moko (tattoo) and weapons seemed more Polynesian than Māori, but I could be wrong about that. My biggest problem lay with the amount of cannibalism that was used throughout the film. While some Māori definitely did practice cannibalism in the past, this was not something that was the norm and this is what The Dead Lands has suggested, IMO. I fear now that, just as Once Were Warriors did in the past (for domestic violence), people will take this as gospel and see MY ancestors as nothing but vicious cannibals, which is the last thing I want. I have already seen one review which I found, less that pleasing, in regards to this topic.
To finish on a positive note, the cinematography was lovely and as always, the landscape of Aoteoroa was showcased beautifully. The fight scene were fantastically choreographed and very enjoyable to watch, even if a little gruesome. Overall I think Toa Fraser and his team did a really great job and I hope that this is the beginning of a new journey that New Zealand cinema has started. Well done.
★★★½ review by TajLV on Letterboxd
"If I do not return, tell stories about me." ~ Hongi
This film was recommended to me by New Zealand Letterboxd member Ayden The NinjaPirateBear. It was the fourth feature film directed by Toa Fraser and, being presented entirely in the Maori language, it became New Zealand's official entry to the 87th Academy Awards in the category of Best Foreign Language Film, although not nominated.
The film opens with bloodshed -- two veteran warriors facing off in the woods with sharp blades. Only one walks away, dragging the other's dead body behind him. We then see a village, where the Maori chief known as Tane (George Henare) welcomes a rival clan's prince named Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka) to collect the bones of his ancestors killed in battle. But Wirepa isn't interested in playing nice. He claims the bones have been defiled and no sacrifice will rectify the sacrilege. He all but declares war on Tane and his people, which was his intention all along.
Caught in the middle of this confrontation is Tane's youngest son, 15-year-old Hongi (James Rolleston), whom Wirepa blames for the vandalism. But some of the tribe's warriors are more than happy for the opportunity to fight and perhaps die in battle. Tane tells of the Dead Lands, home of a once-great tribe that suddenly disappeared, leaving only a "dead place." Tane doesn't want that for his tribe, but during the night, Wirepa's men attack the sleeping villagers and slaughter all the men and most of the women -- an act of cowardice not befitting warriors.
However, Hongi survives, knocked out early in the raid and thought to be dead or to have fled. Some of the surviving women blame him for causing the calamity, while others blame him for not being part of the fight. So Hongi picks up his father's spear and cloak and vows to avenge the death of his kinsmen, even if he must find and kill Wirepa on his own. He begins tracking his treacherous foes, who are taking a forbidden short-cut across the Dead Lands to return to their homeland.
Along the way, Hongi has visions of speaking to the dead, beginning with his deceased grandmother (Rena Owen). She says she's proud of him, but he's foolish to go after Wirepa alone. The boy replies that he'll find the flesh-eater who rules the Dead Lands to help him. Then, some witches direct him to The Warrior (Lawrence Makoare), who laughs at the request of Hongi -- a dwarf by his standards.
Meanwhile, some of Wirepa's men defect, fearful of continuing across forbidden land. They believe they are cursed. And when one of the Warrior's wives convinces him to assist the lad, they chase down the deserters and kill them both. After that the Warrior shares some fighting lessons with Hongi, along with his philosophy: "Neither life nor death is noble; the gods simply created us to suffer for their pleasure."
Most of the film from here on is martial arts Maori-style, including an encounter with trespassing bird hunters let by the sexy and dangerous Mehe (Raukura Turei), as well as a couple of bloody skirmishes with Wirepa's gang before the final confrontation. Tuhaka is just great in his savage role as the last remnant of a once great tribe, although Rolleston in a similar position is much less convincing. He reminded me a tad of "The Karate Kid" (1984) in that respect; I never believed such a scrawny kid could defeat so many muscled and experienced foes.
Besides the Oscar nod, this film won three out of a dozen nominated categories at the New Zealand Film and TV Awards (II), including Best Make-up Design in a Feature Film (Davina Lamont), Best Costume Design (Barbara Darragh) and Best Visual Effects (George Zwier). if there was an award for Best Choreography, the film's fight coordinator Clint Elvy might have won that, too. See it for sure, and enjoy the rugged landscapes of one of the planet's most awe-inspiring lands along with a thrilling adventure story.
★★★★½ review by Sarah McMullan on Letterboxd
What to watch on Waitangi Day? How about a NZ film set in pre-European Aotearoa centreing around inter tribal conflict, settled via the traditional Maori fighting technique of Mau rākau, filmed entirely in Te Reo.
Sounds like an AWESOME plan!
I really enjoyed this. It's an exhilirating, fascinating film full of action full of adventure, but it's biggest drawcard is the fact its full of heart.
An undeniably Kiwi hybrid of APOCALYPTO with Indonesian martial arts epic THE RAID and yes, more than a few nods to classic revenge westerns like NAVAJO JOE. UTU is an OBVIOUS reference, and while this doesn't quite pack the same emotional punch of that storyline, it certainly makes it's mark for a new generation with the same theme of revenge and respect stamped throughout.
As a director Toa Fraser is undeniably one of NZ's most adventurous. Taking a look at his past works - Dean Spanley, No 2, Giselle - it's obvious he's not afraid to stretch himself or his vision; and by partnering with talented people like writer like Glen Standring, AMAZING cinematographer Leon Narby who just CANNOT mistake on screen, he;ll continueto create interesting intriguing films.
Hats off in particular for NOT going with a traditional Maori score. Instead teaming up with Don McGlashan to create a modern score, he avoided the trap of "too much" and the obvious comparisons an international audience may draw to previously released NZ films. (Friends overseas did comment on the number of people discussing during the film what the varoious weapons were called - taiaha & patu aren't so recognisable in Toronto or LA.) It also lends a contemporary atmosphere to a classic story of honour and revenge without labouring the point.
Casting is spot on with nary a Shorty St'er in sight. James Rolleston as Hongi - the plucky young Chieftan's son tasked with restoring honor to his people gives a powerful performance one that will surely get him noticed overseas. Te Kohe Tuhaka as Wirepa - the rival tribal prince and Hongi's #1 nemesis is evil arrogance personified - and a fine example of what hours at the gym can do; but the film belongs to Lawrence Makoare - absolutely terrifying yet incredibly vulnerable as The Warrior.
Not a film to see if you want to go to bed straight afterwards because you WILL be buzzing; this IS a film you MUST see on the big screen.
★★★½ review by Nick Vass on Letterboxd
A pre-colonial Māori action-adventure of the Apocalypto kind. It's hard to resist a coming-of-age revengeful tale as familial, honourable and ancestrally dutiful themes are taken to the forefront. And hell yeah, traditional weaponry such as the patu is bludgeoned on others. Really, I'm gushing here. A brutally barbarian group of archetypes (timid-boy-turned-crazy) falls under the wing of (vicious man in the woods) as they charge towards (egotistical villain with delusions of glory). Well-choreographed and confrontational enough to be a worthy time-passer. It's awesome to gaze upon aerial shots of vast grasslands as they're accompanied by percussive elements and tongue-wavering savages. If any minor quibbles, perhaps, in the pace-shifting towards a spiritual netherworld. Character development is supposedly made for our protagonist, when really, that could've been further established with his violent mentor. Kinetically performed and culturally beholden. More subjective for me.
- See all reviews