So, remember the Mel Gibson movie “Apocalypto”? Not a bad film at all, but strangely didn’t really spawn a new genre for the style of storyline. Well, if you have been begging for something like that, then let me bring to your attention “The Bad Lands”.
This New Zealand film uses a very similar setup with a few little tweaks here and there. A young tribe warrior is set up to be blamed for the desecration of an opposing tribe’s burial ground from a previous war, and while he escapes, the subsequent feud leads to the near-entire death of his tribe members, including his father. Ashamed for leaving his family to die and intent on revenge for his ancestors, he sets out to kill the leader of the clan who took everything away from him.
So rather than being the chased, he is the chaser here, but similarly thrown into the position from a bad turn of fate. The mythology and design is based off of the Maoi Tribe of New Zealand, and really helps towards giving this movie a style of its own that doesn’t feel like a mish-mash of several cultures. The weaponry, clothing, and locations feel genuine and go a long way towards sweeping you into the story. I like the lead actors too such as the young warrior, his father, and the leader of the enemy tribe. They put a lot of emotion into the language as well as the action pieces.
And on that point, let’s jump right into the action. This film has been compared in part to “The Raid”. And even though I can kind of see why it was given that comparison, it definitely isn’t as slick or as well executed. The editing kind of shreds up what are genuinely cool battle sequences – you find it hard to see the landing blows or keep a visual memory of where everyone is. I’m not saying the actual fighting is bad, in fact it is lavishly bloody and full of visceral, but the camera is shaking about too much for you to appreciate it for what it is.
Points have to be taken away for the very slow build up of the last forty minutes or so. The film on the whole is a slow burn, so don’t let the box cover art fool you into thinking it will be non-stop action. The pace is slow and meticulous, placing a lot of focus upon the characters, their motivations, and the mythology of the tribesmen. This isn’t really a bad thing, and for the first hour it had me on board. But the last section remains on this plateau when things should really be building to the big finale, the action sequences feel very sparse when they are separated by long periods of discussion and travel. The film doesn’t go in the direction you hope it to, and dangles the carrot for just too long.
But, I should highlight more of the positives that are on offer here. Like I said, the action is very well done – tightly choreographed and with a lot of grit. I enjoyed the variation and beauty of the locations, the authenticity of the costumes and weapons. I mean seriously, when you see someone get their throat cut in half by what looks like a table-tennis paddle, it makes you pay attention. And the way the warriors intimidate each other before fighting much like the Hakka is really awesome to see play out. Don’t forget the BAD ASS warrior the kid runs into on his travels, who jokes about killing him just for “trying to be funny”. I mean damm, this guy doesn’t take any shit laying down, and takes part in some of the best action sequences the film has to offer. Add in strong subtitling and the enthusiasm of all the cast taking part, and you will at least in part find yourself liking this.
“The Dead Lands” doesn’t exactly separate itself from the story of “Apocalypto” to feel truly unique, despite the great setting and Maoi tribe. The rushed editing also causes problems and might ultimately be what turns people off to this film. But I think there is still enough good stuff on display here to make it worth giving a look into. Even though the standard isn’t quite met, you will still find satisfaction from the journey getting there. The ancestors will be mildly pleased with this one.
Thanks for reading!