We’ve put quite a few binge lists for tv and films to occupy your time while you practice social distancing, but there is one series that deserves its own piece: Watch The Dead Lands. A Shudder Original series and co-production with New Zealand’s TVNZ. The series is an immersive fantasy grounded in Māori belief and culture.
From traditional martial arts to rituals, The Dead Lands blends the horror, fantasy, and adventure genres by building this traditional hero narrative and Māori traditions. While you can look through my reviews of the series to see why each episode builds up to a phenomenal finale, it’s easier to map the reasons why you should watch The Dead Lands, available exclusively on Shudder.
Indigenous Production with Māori Religion and Traditions
In my interview with producer Tainui Stephens and executive producer, writer, and co-creator of the series, Glenn Standring, I got the chance to speak with the two about how the production balanced showcasing sacred Māori rituals with genre storytelling. The answer? Stephens worked tirelessly to adapt chants and that keep their meaning without disrespecting their sacred meaning.
Beyond that, costumes were handmade, the martial arts and weaponry come directly from the culture, and each actor brought their own reverence to their ancestors and culture on set. Additionally, the all Māori cast, and majority Māori crew, made authenticity easy, because they’re being authentic themselves. For more information, you can click play on the featurette above.
The Dead Lands isn’t just an amazing fantasy-adventure series, it’s also one that takes horror staples and showcases how they are from the Māori perspective. The two main ones are zombies and exorcisms.
What we know as zombies, The Dead Lands describes as the Dead. While other stories have a meteor causing the dead to rise or a virus, in this series, the Dead have begun to walk the world of the living after a shaman broke the world. Utilizing the Māori concept of the afterlife, ancestry, and honor, the world of the Dead is complex, and the politics of the living that are in play when tribes need to fight them. On exorcisms, we see an adaptation of a Māori ritual. It’s interesting, different, and extremely physical. But the amazing thing is how the series uses Māori religion in the same way that traditional exorcism stories use Roman Catholicism.
Dynamic Female Characters
From Mehe, the younger daughter of a chief, to Waka’s stoic mother in the land of the dead, and the witches in the forest, there is no shortage of women characters in The Dead Lands. It would be easy for the series to side-line the women to shine a larger light on Waka, the series lead and the focus of the series. But instead, Mehe grows from a stubborn young woman who was kept from fighting to a woman that can maintain her own in battle and holds more power than she or anyone around her knows. Additionally, Waka is defeated by a witch in the forest in both battle and wits, while his mother is both a manipulator and a force of control over him. Women shape The Dead Lands for the better and present a richness to the series.
Whether you’re a horror fan or a person looking to support indigenous storytelling, or just bored and need a new show, you should watch The Dead Lands. The series has eight episodes at an hour a piece, which makes for a great single-day binge. If you still don’t have a Shudder subscription, now is the time to get one and start streaming this epic adventure today!
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Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.