Dead Set (2008)

deadset“Does this mean we’re not on telly anymore?”

Reality television is much too ingrained and injected in to the base of our society and culture to consider it a passing fad these days. We’re living in a world where we’re absolutely obsessed by surveillance, voyeurism and the like to where we can’t get enough of it and we’re provided with an abundance of television that feeds such needs. “Dead Set,” originally a five part television mini-series,” is set in the UK where reality television is a national past time setting down on a society who is consumed by it. It’s so consumed by tabloids and scandals, it can’t stop and notice that we’re being consumed by a ravenous disease turning our entire society in to flesh eating zombies.

“Dead Set” is the middle line of the zombie sub-genre where it’s as funny and brilliant as “Shaun of the Dead” but presents the same social commentary as “Dawn of the Dead.” The only difference is the commentary is not as heavy handed or weighted on the audience. True it does put the reality craze in to the boiling pot, but in the end it’s a zombie movie epic and one about as horrifying and intense as any other zombie film you can find out there. Playing out in a slow but steady pace, “Dead Set” is an often hilarious and brutally scary little look at the end of the world through the television screen as a television network is preparing for the big finale of their best show “Big Brother.” A house mate has just been kicked off and they’re putting all their chips in on this final show staging a massive audience outside the studio and avoiding all other television broadcasts to cash in on the ratings.

On other television screens we’re shown news casts of rioting and violent attacks and the studios completely ignore it until the walking dead begin seeping in to the studio charging relentlessly at innocent bystanders anxious for the spotlight. Though aired on television director Yann Demange does not skimp on the violence providing a massive riot and zombie siege that involves torn limbs, bitten throats, screaming women, and some shocks that will keep zombie movie lovers grinning from ear to ear. Told in four stories we witness producer Patrick and contestant Pippa stuck in a green room at the mercy of a stray zombie refusing to leave them be, a production assistant named Kelly has to maneuver her way out of the studio to get in to safety, Kelly’s boyfriend Riq is stuck at a train station and is anxiously trying to get to her to ensure her safety and inside the Big Brother house, and concurrently the housemates are oblivious to the blood shed outside the doors where zombies watch trying to get in and devour them.

This of course interconnects as star Jaime Winstone portrays the complex and fierce character Kelly who must build courage and strength among the zombie carnage witnessing people die and be eaten before her eyes, all the while trying to convince the jaded housemates that they’re in the middle of a zombie apocalypse and not apart of some elaborate stunt. This of course opens up the doors for some sharp commentary as well as many genuine scares where Demange goes balls to the wall often with spooky imagery, and unbridled gore and splatter that never once shies away from the audience. Blood falls from the barrels and he provides a stunning look at the aftermath where the world is at the mercy of the walking dead consuming the dead by record numbers. “Dead Set” plays like a journey of survival ranging from psychotic policemen, a trip to the supermarket, a fight to restore a car’s functions in the middle of a war zone, and the like all of which is never short on thrills and suspense.

Demange of course steps back and offers some thought provoking moments and ponders on how at the end of the world we’re still so obsessed with becoming celebrities and technology that we can’t focus on survival. These people are still concerned with playing their roles in society rather than doing what they can to survive. The final half plays so much like a normal reality show with the format of voting and committees coming to play among these survivors. Once we’ve seen the characters, they begin to plot against one another, and hide in corners scheming against one another planning devious schemes, and fighting for the hierarchy and leadership, except this time real lives are on the line and fame isn’t present. The initial problem here is that even in facing the end of the world and the walking dead, these people are still unsure what’s reality and fantasy, and are more intent on manipulating one another and fighting for importance rather than building a proper society within the walls of this studio that could keep them alive for a long time.

Though there is no audience, they’re still playing to the gallery and are pitching to one another in the face of the undead waiting outside the gates hungrily for them. In the end “Dead Set” is a horror zombie epic first and foremost and offers up something to chew on after the credits have rolled. With some startling special effects, customary nods to George Romero, and some excellent writing, this is without a doubt one of the best horror movies of the first decade. I’m saddened that I’ve taken so long to see it, but “Dead Set” is proof that sometimes our neighbors across the pond know horror much better than we do offering up an incredible, scary, and intense zombie film that will appeal to fans of the sub-genre. It definitely left me trying to catch my breath after its disturbing final scenes, and you have to appreciate that good horror can still be found outside of remake land.