Dead Set (2008)
By: Mr Intolerance on December 1, 2008  | 
Channel 4 (UK). All Regions, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. English (FHI) subtitles. 141 minutes
The Movie
Director: Yann Demange
Starring: Jaime Winstone, Andy Nyman, Riz Ahmed, Davina McCall, Kevin Eldon, Chizzy Akudolu, Shelley Conn, Raj Ghatak, Riz Ahmed, Beth Cordingly, Adam Deadcon, Kathleen McDermott
Screenplay: Charlie Brooker
Country: UK
External Links
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Let me tell you about my love for reality TV. I have none. I despise reality TV. I'd sooner have gonorrhoea than watch any of it. Reality TV is lowest common denominator rubbish that's only given the slightest bit of credence by the filthiest chavs known to mankind – usually the kind of verminous exhibitionist scum who appear on the shows. Burn them all, I say. So when I heard that there was a zombie satire of this odious televisual plague, I was down with it.

Kelly is a production runner for Big Brother. Her life is rubbish – her duties seems to extend to getting coffee for her awful boss Patrick and being abused by her more senior flunkies, and she seems to have been cursed by the God of Crap Boyfriends. However, life is set to become rapidly more intolerable due to a zombie outbreak on eviction night on the most recent series of BB that she's involved in making. 

The inmates of the house on Big Brother have no idea what the fuck's going on, of course, and therein lies the charm of the show, or at least the initial episode, the remaining ones being a violent fight to the death against the (unfortunately running) zombie hordes. Oh, if only they'd been Romero/Fulci shamblers. One of the strengths of this show would be the unlikeability of each and every character – even actors like Kevin Eldon (Black Books, Spaced, Big Train) who I'm a big fan of, come off as irascible bores. Part of the audience's response is to want to see these arseholes dead (in one memorable scene, Big Brother boss Patrick actually throws a guy in a wheelchair in between himself and a zombie – that's gotta earn you a special place on the ninth layer of Hell…). Mind you, that's how the intelligent part of the species would view reality TV and its contestants at the best of times.

Kelly infiltrates the Big Brother household, and of course, they think it's just some reality TV challenge, despite the fact that she's covered in blood and screaming blue murder, facile dolts that they are. We've got all the stereotypes there, the camp queen, the Northern hard-man, the token black chick, the pretty know-nothing, the satirical hippy and the one fella who knows something's wrong and wants to find a solution. This is not your dream-team when going up against the living dead.

Once Kelly's convinced the crew that all is not well in Happy-land (in a spectacularly brutal scene with special props going out to a fire-extinguisher), siege mentality rolls in. But of course, by this point several members of the BB house are infected – so the question is: who is the next person to be zombified/evicted? Cue: tension.

I'm sure this would make more sense to a UK audience, in terms of some of the references to TV shows and such, but anyway, Patrick and evictee Pippa are trapped in a waiting room being menaced by a zombified Davina McColl (the host of Big Brother in the UK), the rest of the household have no idea what to do, and Kelly's erstwhile boyfriend seems to have hooked up with a female Rambo, Alex. Following the tale? Sure you are.

One of the comedic touches I'll hope you'll get is the reference to One Man and His Dog, because it's a plot device par excellence. I can't say that this series is a momentous televisual event a la some HBO version of The Walking Dead (how I wish that'd happen), but it's still pretty good; the fact that it was actually filmed in the Big Brother house, and features the host and some of the past contestants from the show only adds to the sense of verite. You buy the characters and the situation. The fact that there are no "name" actors furthers the feeling that we're watching "real" people. The only glaring exception is Grayson, the camp-as-a-row-of-tents homosexual housemate (although his character is at least one who develops – a number of them suffer from being a little underwritten), whose flaming mannerisms quickly become irritating.

The voyeuristic nature of this series should become apparent at around this point – the end of episode 2. Moreso than that, by episode 3, Dead Set has really stopped being any kind of comedy (which initially it is), and the zombies are positively lethal. These aren't the pie-in-the-face flesheaters of Dawn of the Dead or the "Send More Cops" brain-chompers of Return of the Living Dead - these zombies are inhuman cannibalistic eating machines; voracious appetites on legs. Remember that moment when the zombies descended upon Captain Rhodes ("Choke on 'em!!!) – that's the kind of zombies we got here (and we eventually get a similar scene to Day of the Dead's climactic gut-munching scene). Except they run, consarn it. I wish they didn't.

By episode 4, our heroes are truly walled in. Despite the fact that they pick off the occasional zombie with the sniper-rifle they've acquired, their outlook is pretty fucking bleak. Let's face facts: like I said before, if we were going to pick our perfect zombie apocalypse survival team, these guys wouldn't be making the cut; their survival skills are pretty damned minimal, to put it mildly. It's also rare that you'd get a TV show that's so truly unsympathetic to its characters. Nasty doesn't even come close summing it up.

By the time we're down to the last episode (number 5) and our heroes are trying to escape, they've resorted to some pretty nasty tactics, and totally compromised themselves as human beings. But zombies being what they are, it's not like they're going to be able to pull a swifty, but brute force always pathes a way…

As the series progresses, it becomes evermore unremitting and bleak, a brave move on the part of the producers. Normally a show like this would end up all sweetness, sunshine and lollipops by the end. This just gets nastier and nastier; don't expect to see too many of your favourite characters having ice-cream and lemonade at the series' conclusion.      

Yeah, okay, there are a number of riffs on the best film of all time (that's George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead in case you somehow didn't know – and a film I'm going to watch immediately after this show is over), but seriously, I recommend you give this a watch. If you like Romero's social critiquing, you'll truly dig this, especially if you also despise this show's whipping boy, reality TV.

There's a very rich vein of black humour running through this show. Some of it sight-gag, some of it in the dialogue – if you can't get a laugh out of the more comedic aspects of Dead Set, there is something wrong with you. Really, you should get as many laughs as you do guffaws at the ridiculous levels of violence. The gore and the grue are remarkably explicit for a show passed by the notoriously censorious BBFC. This would probably just pass with an MA15+ from the OFLC, or whatever they're calling themselves these days – my copy has a UK 18 certificate. Blood? Check. Guts being eaten in explicit detail? Check. The producers haven't stinted on the nasty. That's something I take my hat off to.

Running zombies? No thanks. I'm a Romero fan. I'm a Fulci fan. I like my zombies rotten to the point of putrefaction and not leaping about wildly like a bunch of Olympic athletes. I kind of understand where Brooker was coming from in writing them this way – one shambling zombie isn't much of a threat (although loads of them are), but one violent as all fuck running zombie would be pretty hard to take down in a hand-to-hand situation for the average mortal. So for TV expediency, we have sprinting zombies and shaky hand-cam, which is a visual blight second only to glaucoma, in my not-so-humble opinion. Does it heighten the action? No. It annoys the viewer. I don't need to be part of the action – give me a decently framed shot, let me see what the hell's going on, and I'll be happy. What's the point of all the great gore gags (and there are some awesome ones, for a made for UK TV show) in this show, if you can't see them?

Further to that, I found the same flaws with this, camera-wise, that I did with 28 Days Later and – the fast motion action scenes were too much for the Hi-Def cameras they were filmed on. Your eyes keep snapping back and forth as the picture flickers so frequently as though it's trying to induce epilepsy. Note to the producers: I want to watch the carnage. That's the horror fan's version of the money-shot in porn. We're there for the red stuff, and lots of it. Dead Set does deliver, but it's in the trendy new MTV style of editing, and that's simply just not my bag. Mind you, as I think that it was probably aimed at a market substantially younger than me, it quite possibly hit its target. If so, well done.

Y'know what's funny? I'd call myself a fan of exploitation cinema in all it's wonderful myriad forms, but exploitative TV like Big Brother or Survivor just really make my blood boil – why is that, I wonder? I seriously can't stomach these shows, They actually irritate me to the point of wanting to throw a cowboy boot through my TV set. But I guess that's all part of Brookers' satire – the zombie-like reception that these mainstream fodder shows get from the great unwashed (there are many scenes that back me up here, including a zombie rubbing his face against the screen of a TV displaying the BB house, and when UK TV BB host Davina McCall gets zombified, the carnivorous nature of this kind of media is also lambasted, albeit somewhat heavy-handedly). And as for what they do with Patrick, and what he represents…  

If your zombie fan wants to see paranoia, claustrophobia, violence and despair, this show has them in spades, especially in the latter few episodes. Check this out, I think you'll dig it.
Well, it was made in the last year or two, so the video was always going to be good. It's obviously made for TV, and there are some crappy DTV effects (the CG is not especially well-rendered), but otherwise, the picture is tip-top, crisp and clear.
Dead Set has a 5.1 soundtrack, but I can't say it has that much call to do so. It's not exactly an action-sound-fest. Still, we can't complain when we're given goodness, and I guess it kind of makes good use of the rear channels in the more violent action scenes.
Extra Features
Some SPFX scenes (some amusing stuff, although I don't like knowing how they do the things they do); some deleted and extended scenes; there's an interview with the director (quite good), a behind the scenes doco (for the completists), an interview with Charlie Brooker (also a completists job), and a few interviews with the cast and crew (also good). Not an enormous amount of stuff, but I do get the impression that this was spat out at the public pretty quickly. Maybe this was the best they could organise at short notice?
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A fine piece of made for TV horror, and one that you'll be sorry you've missed, have you not seen it. Strong satire of the whole reality TV thing, as well as a savage zombie holocaust, Dead Set is a TV show you really ought to watch. It's bloody, brutal and visceral, as well as clever, smart and sharp. While it's not quite up there with some of Simon Pegg and Ed Wright's efforts, Dead Set proves there's life in the UK's horror carcass yet – and the ending of this will claw your heart out. It's fucking nasty.

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