Bursting onto UK screens this Halloween week, on Channel 4's digital sister channel E4, came the great televisual experience that is 'Dead Set'. From the pen of writer and columnist Charlie Brooker comes a brilliantly conceived satirical zombie project.
The people of Britain are in a spot of bother when the dead begin to return to life and begin to feed on the living. The infected manage to gatecrash an eviction night on the popular reality based TV show Big Brother, and a group of contestants and a couple of studio workers try to survive whilst being housed up in the Big Brother house.
Aside from the odd appearance in various episodic supernatural and sci-fi shows the zombie never really took to the telly box. And now (at last!) someone has helped it onto the small screen with style and confidence. ‘Dead Set’ oozes class and can proudly sit amongst some of the better zombie movies from the past decade; not just here in the UK but worldwide.
You’ll probably soon realise I have my obvious ass-kissing boots on when talking about Charlie Brooker, but that’s only because he deserves it. He’s a great writer, a very witty and cutting man who many times on his own ‘Screenwipe’ show leaves me in tears with his brutally frank comments as he tears into television shows of the week. So it’s quite a delicious concept to picture this guy taking on an apocalyptic Britain and binding a reality TV show such as Big Brother (a show of which he has candidly knocked and degraded contestants with some hilarious observations) and bringing it altogether into 180 minutes of tongue-in-cheek horror.
‘Dead Set’ quite honestly could have been a pile of rotting flesh. But luckily everyone involved has given serious thought, time and energy to the production and not let it dwindle as a dull, predictable turd. This is a no holds barred series with a glossy look, some great effects and each episode is laden with a multitude of thrills, buckets of blood and gore soaked entertainment. And of course being Charlie Brooker’s creation pays great homage to zombies (of which he is a big fan) and courses the story with excellent humour.
The whole concept itself brings much needed originality to an old format. The zombie clichés have been done to death and once again rise again every time I see them. But due to the unique setting that ‘Dead Set’ originates in the whole idea is taken by the neck and ran with screaming and bleeding.
The cast of ‘Dead Set’ do a great job at what seems to be trying to emulate the type of misfits that often get picked to be part of the Big Brother experience. There’s a middle aged geek, a hot blonde bimbo, a cheeky chappy and a flamboyant homosexual to boot. But aside from the cast there are a number of notable cameos from past Big Brother faces, notably Brian Belo (winner of Big Brother 8) who appears both pre and post-zombie. But its host Davina McCall who is scarily convincing as the monstrous undead when she herself falls victim to the eviction night attack (by having her throat bitten out).
Jaime Winstone (‘Donkey Punch’) plays Kelly in the lead role. And she is joined by the ever-entertaining Andy Nyman (‘Severance’, ‘Death at a Funeral’), playing the big-prick show producer Patrick, who appears to genuinely hate all the contestants of the show. He spends most of his time bellowing insults and sarcastic remarks to his fellow survivors and I can’t help but think this came quite easy to scribe Brooker, as he has managed this umpteen times when casting his critical eye over reality based shows of the past.
The zombie’s themselves are creepy and the make-up effects are first class, better than some Hollywood movies I’ve seen in the past. The undead here are runners (much like what appeared in the 2004 remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead’) which I do feel is quite possibly the right decision in this case. It makes the doom of the situation feel much more terrifying and fast paced. The pace of the show is speedy, no drawn out dialogue required, and there’s even the absence of start and closing credits.
Ok, so there has to be a criticism or two. The camerawork is very unsteady and even though this style has likely been adopted for more practical reasons and to help bring you into the action after a while it does make you feel a tad on the giddy side. Much like what the opening of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ did to me all those years back. And my only other single condemnation has to be the absence of more amounts of gratuitous nudity. I mean hell(!) that’s the only reason I tune into Big Brother in the first place anyway. But I guess it still has a chance to redeem this factor by tonight, albeit I’ll let the critical eye close if it’s decomposing nakedness.
Tonight's finale episode is equally as compelling as its predecessors. We can’t reveal much but tensions in the house begin to show as the group becomes split with the decision to stay or go. Either way there’s going to be a lot of bloodshed and flesh chewed as our band fight to survive.
Just how well this would go down stateside is another question. Obviously a barrage of Big Brother UK references would go over many-a yanks head, and if they’re not on the same ‘dry-wit’ page might miss out on a lot of what underlining intelligence the series has. But if you are in the UK and have digital TV I would highly recommend this highly effective series which comes to DVD very soon. But check out tonight’s finale if you get the chance! If you like horror then this is for you. If you don’t, but like Big Brother, I think you’ll equally get a kick out of it. ‘Dead Set’ is quite a superb addition to the sub-genre. If I had a hat it’d be raised to you right now Mr Brooker.
‘Dead Set’ airs each day this week here in the UK and concludes on this Halloween night.