Everything about The Dead Lands screams “Watch me!” — from the Māori traditions and histories, to the hero’s journey, to the mystery of who broke the world.
After watching the three screeners that Shudder made available, I cannot wait for the launch of The Dead Lands on the SVOD streaming service so I can find out if the two heroes can repair the breach that broke the world.
Based on the award-winning 2014 film of the same name (but with no narrative connection to it), the supernatural-fantasy adventure TV series The Dead Lands is inspired by Māori culture, traditions, and histories.
Set in “the time of stories” in a mythical Aotearoa (the Māori name for New Zealand), the story follows Waka Nuku Rau (Te Kohe Tuhaka, Shortland Street, Go Girls, The Dead Lands), a “more monster than man” Māori warrior whose skills, like his sins, “are far beyond counting.” But those skills aren’t enough to save him from being murdered — or from being refused an afterlife, by his ancestors no less. He has his sins and lack of heart and honor to thank for the latter.
Waka has a choice: redeem himself and find honor in the world of the living, and then be welcomed into the Afterlife, or be forever trapped between the two worlds as a being that is neither living nor dead.
So, begrudgingly, it’s back to his terrestrial home Waka goes, where he encounters and fights off the undead… and finds Mehe (newcomer Darneen Christian). This spirited and determined young woman has come here to find Waka and get his help to save both her people and the world.
The veil between Light and Dark has been breached, allowing the undead to cross over from the Afterlife. But it also prevents the newly-dead from entering the Afterlife and reuniting with their ancestors; their spirits, “forced back into their decaying bodies into the world,” are angry, and now they seek vengeance by stalking the land and hunting the living.
Together Waka and Mehe set off to find who broke the world and how to repair it — encountering both natural and supernatural beings as they navigate known and unknown terrain, including tribal politics, along the way. And as they make their respective hero’s journey, Maha becomes Waka’s protégé while serving as his moral compass, as Waka begins to learn what honor is while acting as her protector.
The Dead Lands is epic — rich in its expressions and demonstrations of Māori culture and traditions, and in its storytelling, filled with adventures infused with frights and humor and even life lessons, as well as mystery. It’s also visually captivating, featuring shots of stunning New Zealand landscapes and scenes set in the eerily-beautiful Afterlife.
Te Kohe Tuhaka is fabulous as Waka, with his warrior’s glare, battle-ready body, and sometimes-slow-on-the-uptake brain. And Darneen Christian, who has her first television role in The Dead Lands, is a talent to watch; her passionate portrayal of the young, courageous, and wise-beyond-her-years Mehe is impressive.
I love The Dead Lands and wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone.
Created and written by Glenn Standring (The Dead Lands, 6 Days, Spartacus), the eight-episode series features Kirk Torrance (Outrageous Fortune), Miriama Smith (Filthy Rich), Grace Palmer (Shortland Street), and Jordi Webber (Power Rangers Ninja Steel).
The Dead Lands, a Shudder Original series, premieres in the US, Canada, UK, and Ireland with its first two episodes tomorrow, Thursday, January 23, exclusively on Shudder and its digital channels, including Shudder on Amazon in the US, Canada, and the UK. Subsequent episodes will debut weekly.
TVNZ launches The Dead Lands in New Zealand with the first two episodes on Friday, January 24, with new episodes debuting weekly thereafter.
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