Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: Dead Set

Channel 4 UK, 2008, script by Charlie Brooker, dir. Yann Demage

When the dead begin to rise and attack the living, when civilisation begins to crumble, a small number of people remain completely unconcerned. This is understandable, however, as these folks are the last remaining contestants in the UK Big Brother house. Safely cocooned from the outside world, and blissfully ignorant of the impending apocalypse, the BB housemates continue to go about their daily, meaningless routines. Then eviction night arrives...

To begin with a possible spoiler, Dead Set is undoubtedly the most dark and nihilistic outing into zombie-apocalypse territory I've ever seen. It's also one of the very best I've ever seen. Shot on a low budget, the five-episode TV series nonetheless benefits from high production values (including some shockingly realistic SFX). The relatively small cast all turn in wonderful performances guaranteed to make the viewer invest in the fates of the characters they play. Scripting is excellent, and the much-touted satirical element of the series is handled with a surprising amount of subtlety; sadly, I suspect that most Australian viewers won't truly appreciate the cameo roles played by UK BB host Davina McCall and various real-life former housemates.

The true genius of the concept behind this series isn't simply the 'unique' location of the BB household: it's the fact that this location allows scriptwriter Charlie Brooker to take the standard zombie-apocalypse plot - small band of mismatched folk seeking shelter in order to survive - and turn it on its head. Our survivors actually begin their journey in the safest place on earth, and rely for their survival upon their ability to not merely get along with one another, but to transcend the fact that they have all been specifically selected to not get along with one another. To put it another way, these are the sort of people who would already have been eaten in the first reel of any other zombie outing, and there's an horrific fascination in watching the usual banal behaviour of Big Brother housemates play out in a manner that has consequences beyond in-house bitchery.

For fans of horror, zombies, or even just a damn good teledrama, Dead Set is required viewing. The DVD is currently available in Australia from most applicable retailers.

(This review originally posted to HorrorScope, 2008)

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