Tuesday, April 27, 2010

REVIEW: Dead Set

Dead Set
Director: Yann Demange
Writer: Charlie Brooker
Year 2008

Dead Set is a ferociously enjoyable British TV series that focuses on how the diverse cast of Big Brother cope with an all out zombie outbreak that has cast the entire world into a wasteland of death and despair. This unique story is brought to us by the creative writing efforts of Charlie Brooker and expertly directed by Yann Demange. At first discovering the plot of this series, I was a bit apprehensive on what the end result would look like, but my worries were quickly diminished when I actually got a copy of the entire series and sat down for a viewing. Though the Big Brother angle seems like it would be a cumbersome ordeal, seeing I can't stand the ongoing reality TV fad, it surprisingly turns out that this is less Big Brother and more good old fashion zombie goodness, with numerous homages to the great zombie library of films.

Davina McCall playing herself as she presents the
next person to be booted from the household.

The film starts out on eviction night outside the Big Brother house, where a huge seething crowd awaits the name of the cast member that is to receive the boot. The thing that stands out the most about this cast is that they are all real life counterparts of the actual show Big Brother. We are presented to Davina McCall in her host role and we're given an impressive list of Big Brother veterans to fill out the housemate cast. This should be a real treat for fans of the british version of Big Brother, but I've never seen the show myself and fortunately this never took me out of the story line. It's just a nice addition and something that could possibly center this story in reality for familiar viewers of the show and it brings a strong vibe of authenticity to the proceedings.

Andy Nyman directs the crew in fantastically prickish fashion.

One of the members of the cast that has not previously had any involvement in the world of Big Brother, is actor Andy Nyman, who plays the role of the vicious Big Brother director Patrick, spouting venomous insults from behind the one way glass of his studio booth. This character is a true asshole and one that continually shows his true colors as the series moves along. The things he does in order to save his own life are pretty brutal and cowardly in their execution. Patrick is one of those characters that you love to hate and he's a much needed ingredient in the zombie apocalyptic world, much like Night of the Living Dead's Harry Cooper or Day of the Dead's Captain Rhodes.

The zombies in this series are pissed off maniacs.

The zombies in this production are not the typical slow moving corpses of Romero's zombie infested world, but that of the more recent 28 Days/Weeks Later and Dawn of the Dead Remake variety. I see why the filmmakers made this choice, because this is a fast paced series and the entire story needed to be told in five quick episodic entries. I've always preferred the slower form to the unrelenting track star style of the new breed of zombies, but for this series I find that it works and it keeps the pace of the events that are unfolding at a constant and highly entertaining tempo.

Davina McCall makes an impressively gory death scene.

There's also a large amount of blood and gore that is nice to see, especially in a piece that was presented for television. We get blood splattered walls and torso ripping, as the flood of zombies crash the Big Brother party and begin devouring the throngs of fans as they party outside of the house. One of the most chilling moments of this initial horrific opening, is when we are presented to a zombified Davina McCall as she sprints down the hall towards the camera. She's covered in blood with piercing eyes of death and a devourish demeanor, giving it all she has in bringing terror to the audiences' heart. How someone so beautiful can look so morbidly grotesque is beyond me, but she did her job to perfection never holding back on her performance.

We are also given some great emotional performances, in part by the character of Kelly, played by Jaime Winstone, who witnesses the whole entire bloodbath from behind the scenes as she fights for her life against her now infected coworkers. The look in her eyes as she watches the news report on what has been happening outside the studio, is both chilling in its intimacy and provocative in its simplicity.

I think I'm going to barf.

This film brings some clever ideas to the table and does it with a tongue and cheek like edge. We are given some interesting shots of zombies hypnotized by what they are seeing on the many television screens that line the studio walls. They bask in the glow of the living cast members images as they go on with their regular routines, oblivious to the horrors that lie just outside of their enclosed habitat. This metaphorical image seems to comment on the zombie-like state that society seems trapped in while they voyeuristically tune in to watch ordinary nobodies live out their lives in these pseudo reality shows. I love this fun poke at reality shows and I love it even more that the show Big Brother officially attached itself to this series, even though it tends to jest at the whole idea of reality shows in general.

An interesting metaphorical shot of a zombie watching TV.

As we get to know some of the cast members of Big Brother, we find that there is a very familiar face in the crowd, well at least in my opinion. Kevin Eldon, from such classic british shows and films like World of Pub, Big Train, Look Around You, Hot Fuzz, and Hyperdrive, plays the personified generational gaped character of Joplin. He's great as the always uncomfortable older housemate who struggles to relate to the younger generation that inhabits the majority of the house. I've loved him in everything that he's appeared in and this series isn't an exception. He has some great moments that really effect the overall outcome of the show and brings about an apocalyptic conclusion that needs to be seen for its brutal disregard for its well established characters.

The Big Brother cast tries to come
to grips with what has happened.

Visually, this series is astounding, giving the feel of a full blown feature film. If all five episodes were mashed together and presented as one continuous package, you'd be hard pressed to separate this film from any other hollywood big budget production. That is one of the most interesting aspects of this series. Dead Set never feels like an episodic series, instead it flows like a feature film giving us an overall story arc that would work nicely up on the big screen. Whatever the reason is for splitting this into a five part series, the end result is simply amazing and it's a great addition to the already stellar line-up of zombie movies to come out in recent years.

Pick those knees up, you run like a girl.

The cast of characters that inhabit the Big Brother house are a perfect fit for a zombie film, with each housemate bringing something different to the forefront. We have the cowardly scared shitless character in Kevin Eldon's Joplin, the eye candy of Kathleen McDermott's Pippa, the prickish nature of Andy Nyman's Patrick, and the ass kicking innocence of Jaime Winstone's Kelly. The entire cast runs the gamut of cliched zombie character stereotypes, yet they each manage to bring something fresh to their personalities and push their personas far from those stale and retread territories. Everyone does an amazing job of playing their role and doing their part, bringing about some memorable moments and original characters.

Peek a boo you fuck you!

The sense of the zombie apocalypse is shown with great impressionable imagery and is done so effectively that it's commendable to the filmmakers abilities to stretch a budget for all it's worth. The scale of the series is epic and we get the dire feeling that there's no going back to the world that once was. The crew got the depressing zombie film feeling down and you never once doubt the fact that these characters are now stuck in a world of shit. The overbearing and frightening sight of seeing countless numbers of zombies at the studio's gates, is just one of the images in this series that will haunt you. It's spectacularly shot and tremendously effective in bringing on the doom and gloom.

The dead bastards just keep coming.

It's an interesting concept to show that in a zombie infested world, the Big Brother house is almost the safest place to be, because of its utmost security and seclusion from the rest of civilization. We're shown time and time again at how viewers from all over, can be apart of this inner television world, but the reality of it is that they are quarantined in a sense from the rest of society and only viewable through a television screen. Their far flung from the rest of the world and cast into a place of make believe that doesn't really exist among the masses. We watch as zombies cling and claw at television screens trying to get at our main cast of reality stars, only to taste the bitter electronic flavor of the lifeless idiot box as it stares back in mindless abundance. The parallels that the filmmakers make in comparing the infected zombies with the entranced television viewer is both clever and unique to the genre.

Here's looking at you kid.

If there's one thing that this series does well, it's the ability to create a bleak world without a future. The entire look of the show is gritty and honed into reality, which is a very contrasting aspect from its reality television roots. It's this concept that makes it that much more intriguing, as we start off with the glitz and glamour of the Big Brother eviction night with all of its flare and rabid fandom, to the oppressive imagery of people being ripped apart and the sight of a world turned to a wasteland. The flip from this pseudo reality of a television show to the harsh realities of a very malevolent zombie uprising is quite impressive to watch and it is great to see the characters have to adapt into that realm of thinking of their survival and not their claim to fame.

Life in a zombie apocalypse sucks.

Dead Set is a well crafted and expertly shot zombie television series which is hopefully a sign of things to come when Frank Darabont's The Walking Dead hits AMC later this year. It seems that the zombie resurgence that has struck cinemas as of recent is far from over and Dead Set is a prime example that there is still life in these lifelessly plagued stories to discover. This series combines two unorthodox and totally different subjects of reality TV and a zombie apocalypse, and perfectly molds them to create one unique and cohesive tale that just seems to fit. This british zombie series is highly recommended to anyone that loves zombie flicks and the horrifying imagery that comes with them.

4 out of 5 stars      An Epic British Zombie Series With Grit to Match.

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