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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Dead Lands

Maori warriors caught up in cycles of revenge, remorse

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(2014, Te Reo, which is the language of the Maori) In a time of peace, Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka), son of his tribe's chief, comes to the land of the last great battle in his quest for glory. "Do you still walk here, my ancestors?" he questions before vowing: "I will avenge your deaths. You will sing my name and my glory."

He picks up a skull from a pile of bones and kisses it. "I have a gift for you," he says, as Hongi (James Rolleston), a fifteen-year-old boy of another tribe watches him squat over the bones. After Hongi hurls a stone at Wirepa, he's chased and caught by the stronger man. Men from both tribes converge on the pair, for Hongi is the son of the chieftain Tane (George Henare), whom Wirepa accuses of "defiling the bones of my ancestors."

"Did you do what he says?" Tane asks. "No, Father," replies Hongi: "This is his plan to blame us." As Wirepa threatens to take his complaint to his father as justification for war, Tane offers: "If my son did this, then I myself will kill him, so that the bond between our two tribes remains strong." But first Tane wants assurance that his son's death will be sufficient to end the grievance, restoring balance "for all time."

Filled with arrogance, unwilling to be deprived of his objective, a pretext and excuse for a war that he expects will bring great renown to himself, Wirepa answers: "No sacrifice can repair this insult to my ancestors. You are all responsible, and my father will hear of it."

To the east a great tribe once lived but suddenly disappeared, Tane, fearful of a similar fate for his tribe, tells his son of the Dead Lands: "A land without people, a dead place." At nightfall, Wirepa and his warriors return, slaughtering Tane's warriors as they sleep. Before killing Tane and taking the chieftain's head for a trophy, Wirepa denigrates his enemy: "I will fill your daughter's uterus with dirt."

Though Tane curses Wirepa, only his son escapes, leaving just women to weep over the corpses. Imagining his ancestors screaming for repayment of such a massacre, Hongi bids his sister farewell, setting out for the Dead Lands where Wirepa and his warriors have entered to save five days of journeying around.

The Dead Lands are forbidden, according to a legend of a flesh-eating monster, one who consumed an entire tribe of Maoris, in director Toa Fraser's grisly portrayal of a cycle of revenge from Glenn Standring's screenplay. Hongi's grandmother's spirit addresses the boy preceding his meeting a young female warrior who introduces him to witches before he's admitted to the abode of the demon warrior (Lawrence Makoare) demanding to know: "Why are you here?"

Hongi's answer will determine if he's to become the next meal or not. The warrior's wife, who cannot die until her husband dies, trapped in his infamy, says to her spouse: "The boy reminds you of your own dishonor, that much is plain." He replies: "Seeing you suffer is the only pleasure left to me."

"Help the boy," she urges him along with asking forgiveness from his ancestors, making an offering of the youth's blood as a prize to them, "because he is everything you are not." Other women in the warrior's harem consume mushrooms, giving them visions of their ancestors.

The warrior demonstrates to the novice how to kill his enemies by first making them angry, joking about their mothers, causing them to lose focus. "But death is not noble," he relates to Hongi: "Nor is life. If you ask me, the gods have made this life to take pleasure in our suffering."

In training Hongi, the warrior judges the boy's performance as neither bad nor good, maybe good enough. In hand-to-hand combat - grimacing, dancing defiantly, shouting, waggling their tongues - both Wirepa and his warriors as well as Hongi and his mentor individually wield with deadly force a taiaha (fighting staff) and mere (broad-bladed weapon of jade).

Confronted by the female warrior, the demon warrior with the mark of his dead tribe on his thigh prevents her from revealing his true nature and horrible, irredeemable past. Some of Wirepa's men become despondent in believing they have been cursed by passing through the forbidden Dead Lands. Banished by his own ancestors from the afterlife, the demon warrior faces oblivion from death; but Hongi in ending the cycle of repayment revenge also becomes the warrior's savior.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2015 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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