Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 21 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Yann Demange
Written by: Charlie Brooker
Starring: Jaime Winstone, Riz Ahmed, Adam Deacon, Andy Nyman, Warren Brown, Beth Cordingly, Kathleen McDermott & Kevin Eldon
Two years before THE WALKING DEAD premiered on AMC, there was another zombie series to hit the small screen: DEAD SET. To be precise, DEAD SET is actually a mini-series that aired in the UK in 2008. A far more condensed tale than AMC’s hit series, DEAD SET serves as one of the best pieces of zombie entertainment to come out of the overcrowded undead subgenre. It may be difficult to track down, but DEAD SET is well worth your time. What sets it apart from other zombie movies and shows? Well, let me count the ways…
Riots are occurring across the UK and a state of emergency has been declared, but who cares about that when it’s eviction night on BIG BROTHER?!?! The reality show is about to kick off one of its contestants. Crew members around the TV station are struggling to keep things afloat. However, the eviction goes horribly wrong when a full-blown zombie apocalypse breaks out. This leads to young coffee-getter Kelly barring herself in with the BIG BROTHER housemates. A scummy producer, Patrick, holes up in a room with diva reality star Pippa. All while, Riq, Kelly’s boyfriend, journeys through the dangerous streets to make it back to his girlfriend. These three plotlines serve as their own individual threads and eventually collide into a chaotic finale.
DEAD SET does the impossible. It actually made me care about reality stars. I’m proud of avoiding most reality television, but brief clips that I have seen serve as a reminder that sometimes ignorant idiots receive fame and attention for no good reason whatsoever. How else would you explain the Kardashians, Honey Boo Boo, Duck Dynasty, and the Duggars? This miniseries’ fictionalized BIG BROTHER contestants are wholly unlikable and stereotypical at first, but change to real, relatable characters as the zombie apocalypse goes on. Jaime Winstone plays Kelly as a bad-ass heroine and you usually don’t come across those in zombie films (aside from Sarah Polley in the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake). She also displays a vulnerable side and can be utterly terrified when she need be. Meanwhile, Riq is an enjoyable protagonist in his own right and his story serves as a glimpse into the chaos outside of the TV station. Finally, Andy Nyman is perfectly cast as the despicable Patrick. He comes off as a more darkly hilarious and profanity-spouting version of Cooper from the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.
You might be wondering how DEAD SET can run for over two hours and not get boring. I was a little skeptical going in, but found myself fully engaged throughout the five-part miniseries thanks to a balance of well-crafted tension and old-fashioned entertainment. I would be lying if I said that the basic outline of DEAD SET didn’t resemble a hundred other zombie films. It’s about survivors holing up during the zombie apocalypse and one guy trying to make his way through the bloody chaos. Those are the only two major types of plots that can be done with zombies. Every film or show revolving around the undead seems to do a variation on those two stories. Wisely, like the best zombie films out there, DEAD SET uses the mindless undead cannibals as a story device and focuses on the humans throughout. It should also be noted that the miniseries doesn’t shy away from showing hardcore Romero-level gore as there are a few extreme scenes of dismemberment.
Besides the omnipresent sense of hopelessness and rising tension, DEAD SET also maintains a dark sense of humor. These laughs range from obvious jokes to sharp satire about reality programming and its effect on society. For example, when a bloodied Kelly first runs into the BIG BROTHER house for shelter, the contestants believe her to be part of their next challenge and the whole thing to be one big joke. However, they get a rude awakening when a zombie bursts through a door soon after. There’s also obvious social commentary about the zombies flocking to the TV station or being glued to various TV screens. Little touches like these make for a suffocating atmosphere of dread as well as a wink towards the sheer irony of the situation.
If I have any complaints with DEAD SET, they come in some shaky camera work that soils a few potentially awesome scenes. That’s a minor gripe as this was only annoying during a couple of spots. Though the zombie subgenre will always be overcrowded with cheap and low-rent crap, there are always great films, shows and video games that stick out for special reasons. I would argue that DEAD SET is one of the very best things to come out of the zombie subgenre…period. It stands close to Romero’s original DEAD trilogy as a near-masterpiece piece of zombie horror.