In this dazzling action epic set in pre-colonial New Zealand, the young son of a murdered tribal chieftain seeks vengeance on his family’s killers by learning the ancient Maori martial arts from a legendary warrior.
Set in pre-colonial New Zealand — or, as it was known to its inhabitants, "Te Ao Maori" (the Maori World) — The Dead Lands is a dazzling action epic that has the distinction of being the first film ever to feature Mau rakau, the traditional (and terrifying) Maori martial art of armed combat. More than just an action film, it is also firmly grounded in the tribal culture of the time, particularly the concept of mana (meaning honour, respect, power, and prestige) and the intricate protocols associated with it.
After his tribe is slaughtered through an act of treachery, the chieftain's teenage son, Hongi (James Rolleston, star of the international hit Boy and one of the stars of this year's Festival selection The Dark Horse), sets out to avenge his father so that he may bring peace to the souls of his lost loved ones. Vastly outnumbered by the band of murderous marauders who are still on the prowl, Hongi has only one hope: he must enter the forbidden "Dead Lands" and seek assistance from the mysterious "Warrior" (Lawrence Makoare, previously seen in Die Another Day and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), a legendary fighter who is rumoured to reside there. With his people's killers still on his trail, it's life or death for Hongi as he navigates the nuanced connections between violence, revenge, leadership, and societal esteem.
Making a dramatic left turn from his previous features, the charming fantasy Dean Spanley and the dance film Giselle (both of which previously screened at the Festival), director Toa Fraser and his creative team have created a riveting coming-of-age drama possessed of both remarkable visual beauty and stunning savagery. The Dead Lands is, simply, a game changer.