Cinepub


Review: Dead Set by Jamie

I don’t know if I’ve made this clear in the past but I’m quite the fan of Zombie films. I’m not sure why. There’s just something mildly appealing about being one of the few last members of a doomed species surrounded by the undead who want nothing more than to consume your flesh. That may seem odd but who wouldn’t want to be one of those survivors, no more of the drudgery of everyday life, going to work and earning a wage but fighting back the shambling hordes just so you could say you survived. Yeah, for me the Zombie Apocalypse is escapism.

There’s also a fantastic sense of hopelessness in zombie films. In the best ones it seems as though once the infection has begun to spread then the fight is already over. The zombies have already won simply through sheer numbers. The infection often seems to be global and it seems as though it’s only a matter of time before the remaining survivors succumb to either a natural or unnatural end. This is why my favourite zombie films are the original Day and Dawn of the Dead. It’s made very clear in those films that the undead dominance is practically total. The same is also true of the absolutely fantastic piece of Zombie-related televisual entertainment I’ll be looking at today, Dead Set.

Now, let’s get one thing out of the way right at the outset. Dead Set’s zombies are the runners that are becoming more and more prominent throughout zombie fiction. Whilst still being a zombie purist and preferring the shambling, rotting kind who are no real threat on their own but amass in huge numbers causing survivors to become trapped and ideally turn on each other, I will admit that, when used correctly, the runners can be effective. This was perhaps best demonstrated recently in ‘Zombieland’. Running zombies were perfect for that film because the survivors didn’t spend most of their time trapped in one location. It was essentially a road movie and in that kind of film I can see why the runners would be more effective than the traditional Romero variety.

In Dead Set, the running zombies are effective but for different reasons that Charlie Brooker, the writer of this and all-around genius, has stated himself in response to friendly criticism he received from Simon Pegg, well known slow zombie advocate. Basically the runners are used due to budgetary constraints restricting the number of crowd shots, the need to differentiate itself from Pegg’s own ‘Shaun of the Dead’, and the fact that infection needed to spread quick enough to stop an evacuation of the studio being possible. That last one will make more sense once I get into the actual review which I seem to be having some difficulty in doing. Anyway, to sum up these are all fair enough reasons.

Right, to the synopsis then. ‘Dead Set’ starts off during an eviction night for the reality series Big Brother. Throughout the day there have been reports of massive riots or some such thing occurring throughout Britain but despite the possible ramifications of this, the producer decides to take Big Brother to air as normal. During the eviction, however, something horrific happens and before long the only people left alive are those inside the Big Brother house, unaware of what’s happening outside, a show runner, the producer and the evicted contestant. There are a couple of other survivors but the main focus is really on these and, later on, the show runners boyfriend who is trying to make his way to the Big Brother house.

The show runner, Kelly, soon finds out that the outside world is pretty much devoid of life and decides to make her way into the Big Brother house, what with it being possibly the safest place in the world right now. When she makes it inside the house mates think that she’s a new contestant, albeit a fairly crazy one. When a zombie manages to get in and bites one of them, however, they soon realise the situation they are in.

And that’s pretty much where I’m going to leave the synopsis. I’ll say right now that this really is a must watch. It’s available in all of it’s fantastic five part glory through Channel 4’s YouTube page here. My apologies to people outside the UK. I know how these things often work so I wouldn’t be surprised if you find some kind of content restriction message. You can always buy the region 2 DVD, which I would recommend for anyone if I’m honest. It’s always nicer to have a physical copy of something. There are of course other methods you could employ which I will no way endorse here.

So what makes Dead Set so pants-wettingly brilliant? Well, everything really. The very idea of taking Big Brother and putting a zombie apocalypse around it, is in itself a wonderfully simple idea and allows for all the satire and commentary that the best zombie films are known for. In this case it’s reality TV that’s on the chopping block, obviously, and the culture that surrounds it. All of the contestants are the kinds of twattish stereotypes that Big Brother and it’s generally twattish audience thrive on. From blonde bimbo to flamboyantly gay transvestite, all the archetypes are covered. There’s even that one who’s a little bit stupid but likeable enough that he’d probably never actually win. From what I’ve seen of Big Brother those are generally regarded as background characters who never get much screen time because they aren’t as twattish as their housemates. I need to stop using the word twattish.

What’s interesting is that most of the characters, whilst still retaining may of their stereotypical charactersitics, manage to undergo major developments. For example Veronica, the blonde bimbo character, upon finding out about the zombie apocalypse enquires “Does this mean we’re not on the telly anymore?” but by the end she’s able to come up with a plan in order to take down a zombie lose in the garden. It manages to take what should be a relatively unlikeable cast of people and make you care about them and what happens to them in a way that I imagine Big Brother itself would have trouble doing in two months of programming.

It’s also quite clear that a large portion of the zombies are drawn to the Big Brother house, something which makes sense because most of the people there probably where fans of the show who were turned on the night of the eviction and one of the contestants even muses that they the house was almost like a temple to them in life. This echoes Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ where it is theorised that the zombies come to the mall due to some fading half-memory of their former life in which they considered it to be an important place for them. In this case the people used to come here to feed on the micro-fame of the people inside the house and now they’re back to feed on them once more, only this time in a much more literal sense.

Of course, you could talk about the satire and social commentary in zombie films until the cows come home and I’m sure people will continue to do so until the inevitable real life Zombie Apocalypse. The most important thing is how is this invasion of the undead portrayed on screen and all I’ll say is that Dead Set does not disappoint. It is exquisitely gory, revelling in the dismemberment of people by the ravenous monsters. Seriously, for a TV mini-series it seems as though absolutely no punches were pulled. You get to see a zombie get it’s head smashed in with a fire extinguisher, a zombie being carved up for bait and British television ‘favourite’ Davina McCall getting her throat bitten out. The whole thing is enhanced by the fucking fantastic sound effects, each squelch and stab being presented in sickeningly, crisp detail. Awesome. Speaking of sounds, I should also say that setting the initial zombie outbreak to Mika’s ‘Grace Kelly’ was an ingenious idea.

Right, I think I’ve spoken enough about this now. If you haven’t watched it yet, find a way to do so and do it now! Five pints out of five. I‘ll be back tomorrow with either a new list, a review of ‘Antichrist’ or the remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead’ which I‘ve decided to rewatch after my softening on the whole running zombie thing. Laterz.

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