Sunday, 30 June 2013

Dead Set - review

2008 (UK)

Broadcast 2008 on E4, a 5 part mini series. Also available on DVD and 4OD.

Contains mild spoilers.

This had been on my radar since discovering it existed about a year ago. A Channel E4, 5 part mini-series written by the dry wit English comedian/social commentator Charlie Brooker, it took the setting of the Big Brother house and production studio and dropped it kicking and screaming into a full-on global zombie apocalypse. It sounded fun and quirky but if I'm honest it wasn't top of my list of things to watch; I mean Big Brother, mini-series, Davina McCall, come on. How wrong could I have been. Putting on the first episode thinking I'd watch a bit before going to bed and suddenly it's early morning, I've watched all two and half hours, I'm exhausted but I've had my zombie itch well and truly scratched.

It's Friday night, eviction, night at the Big Brother UK house. The seven remaining contestants are going through their usual pre-show tantrums and self-idolising, locked up away from the world wrapped up in their own little bubble. Outside the production team lead by the pompous-arse Patrick Goad (Andy Nyman) are getting ready for their big night, worried the weekly show-piece might get taken off air as the news media are focusing on an ever increasing number of cases of civil unrest and rioting.

The house is filled with the sort of self-aggrandising utterly vacuous contestants you'd expect; from the barbie doll page 3 wannabe air head to the self-opinionated pompous  vegan who's not on the show for fame. They're all irritating but brilliantly fleshed out and acted, and it doesn't take long till you find yourself actively looking forward to them being ripped apart.

Here Brooker and co. show real focus and confidence in what they're doing. Just when you think you're in for a long overdone, as tense zombie films all too often do, calm  slow build up to the storm they bring the horror and frenzy of the horde smack bang centre stage at the first opportunity with brutal and bloody ferocity. One minute they're bemoaning being taken off air, the next they're running and screaming for their lives. And let's get one thing straight here, the zombies of Dead Set are not the slow shambling Romero, nor comical Brains groaning parodies, they are rabid, nimble, visceral brutal killing machines. Definitely moulded after Boyles 28 Days Later infected, they are single minded mobile slaughter-houses interested in one thing and one thing only; flesh. Oh, but unlike Boyles monsters, there's no zombie ambiguity here, these guys are definitely dead.

Early on Patrick Goad comments that someone has 'a face like a Manchester Morgue' and it was here I clearly realised Brooker probably possessed more than a passing interest in zombies and we were in safe hands. The undead denizens of Dead Set are the most feral, frenzied and down right nasty I've seen; they are brilliantly realised and complete, and perhaps, just perhaps, my favourite to date. Seconds after passing away, gone is the human that once owned the body and immediately as if stabbed by adrenaline the monster is up and active, violent and strong. The reaction to these guys is real and appropriate too; there isn't any careful manoeuvring around them or pushing them away, the only thing to do is run, and run very, very quickly. The make-up and effects are as good as you're going to get and groans and sound effects are genuinely uncomfortable and frightening. Special mention must also go to zombie Davina McCall (the UK presenter of Big Brother and household name) who makes one darn scary critter.

Everything about Dead Set works. The story other than one small side track is tight, claustrophobic and personal. The pace is relentless with no filler and the ending satisfying. I do love the apocalyptic survival zombie story and this ticked all the boxes. Brooker and the team have perfectly captured what you feel is a small story in a bigger world. I was expecting more to be made of the Big Brother setting; more play with the house-mates ignorant in their own microcosm but on reflection they got it spot on and never overstretched something that could have turned into a one trick pony.

I really don't want to spoil this story so I'll leave it here with a massive thumbs up, 9/10.



  1. I loved this series. I really need to watch it again, as it's been quite some time since I've seen it. Great review!

    1. Cheers, and totally agree. It's really quite the zombie gem. Thanks for the follow.

  2. Fantastic mini series and great review.