Sunday, February 15, 2009
“I suppose most TV is a distraction from something or another. That's kind of a theme in the show, we're kind of distracted by a lot of entertainment in this day and age, and obviously in vaguely making that point, what I've really done is create a zombie-romp that will further distract people from whatever might be more important in their lives. I've basically made the problem worse.”
-- Charlie Brooker
“I mean, you know, what is TV anyway? It’s just a big fat arrow pointing away from the problem. Especially shows like this.”
So the zombie television outbreak may have been blocked on American shores with the Babylon Fields pilot not getting picked up to series, but across the Atlantic, the ravenous undead hordes have besieged the small screen via the gripping Dead Set.
It’s Day 64, 2:36pm, at the Big Brother house. It’s an Eviction Night and the studio’s going just a bit madder than it usually is.
And wouldn’t you know it, but what initially seems to be rioting and random acts of violence—news coverage of which threatens to preempt the show, much to the annoyance of producer Patrick Goad—turns out to be a full-fledged zombie plague.
Featuring the recently discovered genus of the running zombie—first seen in Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead redux, whose deadheads in turn took a cue from the Rage-infected of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later—and employing a handheld camera aesthetic courtesy of DP Tat Radcliffe, Dead Set is the unholy marriage of two media trends that have, for the most part, outstayed their welcome on the pop culture landscape: reality television and the zombie movie.
What at first sounds like a gimmicky conceit though—what happens to the isolated and insulated Big Brother housemates should a zombie outbreak occur?—turns out to be a particularly vicious and feral specimen in the still alarmingly burgeoning ranks of zombie cinema.
For that, we have to thank comic writer Charlie Brooker and director Yann Demange, for not shying away from giving us all the oozy, gory bits any self-respecting zombie movie should have. Also upping the tension is the skillful slicing of editor Chris Wyatt, who takes Radcliffe’s shots and employs the frenetic cutting employed by Chris Gill in 28 Days Later and its sequel, to excellent effect. (Demange, Radcliffe, and Wyatt had all previously worked together on Secret Diary of a Callgirl.)
There’s also an effective cast here, which includes Jaime Winstone, daughter of Ray, who’s also seen in Olly Blackburn’s Donkey Punch, Muay Thai champ-turned-actor Warren Brown, and Adam Deacon (who’d previously worked with Winstone on Menhaj Huda’s Kidulthood).
But the truly unforgettable one onscreen is undoubtedly Andy Nyman, who was the annoyingly endearing Gordon in Christopher Smith’s Severance, and who plays “hard-nosed, ambitious and shouty” Patrick.
If nothing else, Patrick will go down as the most excruciatingly irritating character ever to grace a zombie movie. (You know the one; the character you just can’t wait to get chomped on, the one whose death scene you’ll be cheering wildly.)
Ultimately, Dead Set is an absorbing (and quite welcome) entry amongst the more recent zombie romps, which makes a number of nods to Romero’s original Dead trilogy, from lines, to a climactic death scene (blood and guts galore!).
And not only does it pump up the grue quotient to ridiculous heights, it also takes a bloody swipe at the inanity of reality television and those who choose to partake in it, with former Big Brother housemates and presenter Davina McCall along for the ride.
It’s a thrilling and gory look at the collision of catastrophe and entertainment, where the idea of reality television as goldfish bowl is taken to its bleakest extreme.
There’s also a nasty bit of fire extinguisher work reminiscent of Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, so what’s not to like, really?
“I’m not even saying there is a God. But if there is, maybe all this is happening because He… or She… or It… is judging our culture, and spiting us accordingly.”
“Yeah, but why be such a c*nt about it?”
(Originally aired on E4 October last year, all 5 episodes of Dead Set are available on DVD.)
Parting shot: Incidentally, Chris Wyatt also edited Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book, Shane Meadows’ This Is England, and E. Elias Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire.
Reviews of the latter two films can be found in the Archive, where reviews of a whole host of zombie films, as well as Severance and Donkey Punch, also reside.
(Dead Set DVD cover art courtesy of dvdactive.com; images courtesy of e4.com.)