Dead Set

by

Contains very mild spoilers

I enjoyed Dead Set far more than I thought I would. Being something of an obsessive gimp when it comes to all things undead, I saw the trailer and my first thought was…

…zombie’s shouldn’t be fast!

How many times do we have to tell you?!

Zombies are slow, idiotic, lurching beasts. Not hyper-aware, sprinting gut-munchers! For gawd’s sake, film-makers – you’ve tried it, now let’s get back to the shambolic, staggering undead twats we know and love. It worked in 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake, to a point. But LET’S MOVE ON.

However, I now feast upon my own, over-critical words because it worked here.

The crucial difference between your fast and your slow zombie is margin for error. With a super-zombie, its ability to run at full pelt allows it to kill you within seconds. The virus will spread literally like wild-fire and your only hope, really, is to keep yourself at a massive distance from trouble and holed up securely.

The opportunities for fun multiply when you’re dealing with the traditional, slow zombie as they’re only really a formidable opponent when they come at you in numbers. The virus takes days to set in giving you time to find security. When they do eventually get to you, if you’re stuck in a room with three and have even the lightest of weapons, if you don’t freak out you’ve got a chance. You can outpace them if you choose to run or, if you time your hits right, you can kill them.

The classic zombie allegory, the one film-makers constantly strive to include in their work is based around the fact that zombies are essentially us. When coming at protagonists in hords, they represent the mob. Public opinion. The notion of habitual behaviour. Slow zombies, in this instance, represent the fact that people are catatonic in the face of outside pressures and only respond on the most basic of levels.

So what can we take from the faster, modern zombie? That we’re more clued up? Demand instant satisfaction? Are more aggressive?

It certainly adds up when you consider Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set and it’s none-too-subtle mockery of Big Brother viewers. From the cynical media-savvy watcher to the baying crowds who attend live evictions, thankfully nobody was spared. And, with kudos to Mr Brooker, beyond the premise, the execution of his central conceit was underplayed very well.

So, at the centre of the drama we have the fact that BB viewers are not only zombified – they’re also filled with a kind of aggressive, televisual blood-lust. But beyond that any didactic element was expertly hidden. Despite the fact that characterisation was limited in terms of backstory, we learned enough from their actions to grasp the point the writer was making.

Joplin, I feel, was key here. As a weary, supposedly uninterested contestant approaching middle age, he most represented the BB viewer I tend to know, and I suspect he was the closest Brooker came to scripting himself into the story. Through Kevin Eldon’s lines we got the distinct impression that Brooker feels the cynical observer is just as culpable as the less-informed viewer. And Joplin’s being responsible for literally opening the floodgates in the hectic conclusion was a blatant metaphor for where he feels the blame lies. Essentially, we allow this to happen.

The other characters, sadly, didn’t have quite the depth of Joplin. Jaime Winstone portrayed the standard overlooked herione and the rest of the Big Brother contestants weren’t given a chance to shine. Winstone’s boyfriend had some fantastically emotional scenes but, after five episodes I can’t remember his name, which means he can’t have made much of an impact beyond looking moody on a boat.

The producer character obviously had the best lines – despite being overwritten at some points. With one too many Brookerisms – referring to a PDA as a robot’s bollock, for example – he was in danger of reaching uber-stereotype proportions. But this was remedied by the amusing sight of him literally gutting former housemates with demented glee. And not much needs to be said of the symbolism of his shitting into a bucket in a confined space. It explains itself.

Inevitably, we had the zombie Davina – an idea I was hoping the makers would resist. But, to her credit, Davina makes a far better zombie than TV presenter and it was actually quite gratifying to see her whacking her head against a door – putting those twitching mannerisms to excellent use.

The real problem for anyone approaching zombie film-making in a world where even Romero himself is treading water is what novel amendments can be made to the format without polluting the genre. Fast zombies kind of worked, but have had their day. The first person perspective worked brilliantly in The Zombie Diaries and at the end of the Dawn remake – but faltered somewhat in Diary of the Dead. So one option is to change nothing but the location where the survivors hole up. The location itself becomes the source of tension. Romero was the first to twig this and located his first three movies at, sequentially:

  • The home – looking at how family, friendly and neighbourly relations were compromised.
  • The shopping mall – questioning our consumerist habits. 
  • The nuclear base – playing on fears of nuclear war and military aggression.

Placing the action in the BB compound replicates this structure. Also replicated were several scenes from other zombie movies. Picking zombies off whilst standing on the roof, a la Dawn of the Dead. The producer ripped to shreddies, guts hanging out and all, like the army boss in Day of the Dead. A winking nod to the brilliantly weird Living Dead at Manchester Morgue in the script here, a dash to the van sourced from Night of the Living dead over there… you have to question when homage becomes a tiresome tribute.

It’s this reliance on the genre archetypes that makes Brooker’s outing a worthy addition to what’s becoming a vast pantheon of quality zombie output rather than an outright, genre-busting classic. I’d imagine, to his mind, that’s probably the job wholly done.

Can we get back to the good old days of the stumbling, bumble-fuck undead now? Before it’s too late?

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83 Responses to “Dead Set”

  1. Napoleon Says:

    The first episode was SHIT. No idea how the rest of it panned out … mind you, having read this I can pretty-much guess. Same old tedious zombie same old.

    Oooo … Toto’s ‘Africa’ is on the radio.

  2. Dave Says:

    I was out with some zombies dressed as a festive Smurf this weekend. I wouldn’t recommend it, you stand out.

    daveselectricblanket.wordpress.com

    But Brooker’s show is nothing to write home in blood about.

  3. Napoleon Says:

    I like that story Edna highlighted about the vicar with the spud stuck up his arse …

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/3330057/Vicar-went-to-hospital-with-potato-stuck-in-bottom.html

  4. indy Says:

    the producer character was totally dixon bainbridge. but dead set was very good and has raised me and my girlfriend’s zombie alert awareness. we have bought lots of tin food and google-earthed where we can find isolated islands.

  5. Napoleon Says:

    May I also heartily recommend that 05.31.08 post in the possibly related posts doo-dah above? This man needs more widespread exposure.

  6. indy Says:

    sheffield – so much things to answer for

  7. indy Says:

    *screams into a bag of crisps*

    oi! a vicar was f*cked by your grandchild!

  8. Napoleon Says:

    I had no idea we had so many of our residents getting things lost up their arses.

  9. Toothed Varmint Says:

    Arse is a vety spacious receptacle. A virtual black hole, if you will. Easy to get lost in.

  10. charliemingles Says:

    excellent review sir. Having said that, you did have a week to write the fucker.

    I also really enjoyed this, having initially assumed it would be shite. I really liked the stuff between the producer (I thought he was brooker, not Joplin) and the scottish girl ( the one who acted the over-rated Samantha Morton off the screen in Morvern Callar) were excellent. A Jamie was a very convincing lead. Very good stuff.

    As with most horror films, assuming a decent enough script, it stands or falls on the quality of the editing and directing and I thought this was all excellently done.

    To answer an easy question from last week: it’s clear why Brooker is being so nice to everyone. His Film writing career beckons and he doesn’t want to piss off the wrong people. Seems like a perfectly good idea, though how it’ll affect his tv reviews remains to be seen.

  11. Napoleon Says:

    The editing and the directing weren’t brilliant in the episode I saw. All flashy whistles ‘n’ bells stolen wholesale from 28 Days Later.

  12. Swineshead Says:

    Jumpy editing does get annoying. That’s why I prefer the slow motion zombies. Like THESE motherfuckers.

    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=PpuNE1cX03c

  13. charliemingles Says:

    I didnt notice the fast editing after a bit. You get to expect itwith this sort of thing. But they managed to create and build tension between these scenes very well I thought – thats what makes a good horror film, what happens between the action.

  14. charliemingles Says:

    wasnt romero’s first zombie film that black and white one which was a satire on the american fear of communism? or was that someone else?

  15. Dave Says:

    I think every movie can be interpreted as a satire about the cold war, if that’s what you want to do.

  16. Napoleon Says:

    I prefer the old fashioned zombies as well. These new-fangled ones move too bloody fast. And they should also be naked women in the early twenties.

  17. charliemingles Says:

    more specificaly though dave – blind-eyed slow brainless zombies who look a bit like us marching inexorably over the hill towards you. not exactly hard to get the picture in 50’s america.

  18. Swineshead Says:

    Night of the Living Dead was the first one. Black protagonist.

  19. Dave Says:

    1921 was a good year for ladies. If I were a silent movie star I couldn’t tell you the things I’d get up to.

  20. Swineshead Says:

    And they should also be naked women in the early twenties.

    In a moonshine / speakeasy environment?
    It could work.

  21. Napoleon Says:

    That first one was rubbish. No explosions, no car-chases, no musketeers, nothing. RUBBISH!

  22. Napoleon Says:

    That scenario is eerily familiar, Swineshead.

  23. charliemingles Says:

    yes SH, thats the one. wasnt that a satire on the red under the beds paranoia of 50’s mcarthyism?

  24. ugeine Says:

    I thought the Night of the Living Dead was a satire of US race relations?

    Very thorough review SH. Nothing escapes your keen eye.

  25. Napoleon Says:

    I like to think it was a satire on there not being enough tits on the telly?

  26. Swineshead Says:

    It’s probably been spoken of as both those things. Film students don’t half like talking shit.

    *BLATANT HYPOCRISY*

  27. charliemingles Says:

    I know napoleon. these parallels seem leaden now. but that sort of thing was cutting-edge back then.

    anyone wee the hills have eyes (2007) last night? Also watched a fistfull of dollars – now thats a movie.

  28. ugeine Says:

    Or, it was a satire on 1960s America, which would obviously talk about Communism and race.

  29. Napoleon Says:

    I missed out on the opportunity of weeing on The Hills Have Eyes, Mingles.

  30. Dave Says:

    They’re selling the Spaghetti Western Box Set (that doesn’t include once upon a time in the west so they LIE to we people), for ten pounds. All three of the man with no name films for a tenner which averages as 3.3333333333 pound a pop.

  31. ugeine Says:

    I drank a (small) bottle of whiskey on Saturday and watched Ace Ventura. Obviously a satire on contemporary animal rights set against a backdrop of public expectations around sporting events.

    ‘Oh, ace, look, that’s not how you drive a car! Ho ho ho.’

  32. charliemingles Says:

    I also re-watched Adam Curtis’ flawless work of genius ‘ The Century of the Self’ at the weekend. You can get it online:

    http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=The+Century+of+the+Self&hl=en#

    If youre not griped in the first 30 seconds you are an idiot and probably shouldnt be on this site.

  33. charliemingles Says:

    SH: I also watched argumental, thought it was shite. comedianc can only get away with being smug cunts if theyre very funny. none of these twats was. Rufus hound needs a smack in the fact with a cricket bat. poor old john sergeant is wasted on this ball-juice.

    anyone watch batteries not included. hard not to be annoyed at dom jolly as he lives in such a massive house and is obviously loaded the lucky cunt. his wifes probably gorgeous an all. fat bastard.

  34. Napoleon Says:

    I watched Simon Schama twitch his way through the final part of his cracking American history show. And I also watched the third installment of Steven Fry’s hell-for-leather race to get all fifty US states out of the way as quickly as possible.

  35. charliemingles Says:

    I watched the first of those stephen fry things and didnt enjoy it that much. Stephen fry could make a series about cleaning the toilet and Id watch it normally. but trying to fit everything in like some fat anneka rice/phileas fogg transvestite meant he couldnt linger over things and jsust do what he does best. a wasted oportunity.

  36. Nick T Says:

    My work comp won’t let me view this page as it says there is a word that I’m not allowed to see.
    How can I type this, you may ask?
    Yes, you may ask..

  37. roszs Says:

    SH – the boyfriend was called ‘Rick’, I thought, until someone else called him ‘Tariq’, so he is actually called ‘Riq’.

    I hope that clears THAT up.

  38. Napoleon Says:

    Is that word ‘cabbage’, Nick? A dangerous word.

    My mother rang me up to complain that there’s too much swearing on the televison nowadays. Why she thought a man with a mouth as foul as mine would sympathise with her view is anyone’s guess. Fucking baffled me.

  39. Dave Says:

    My mother’s a cabbage.

  40. Napoleon Says:

    Speaking of cabbages …

    I had a dream last night where I discovered a large and bountiful vegetable garden round the back of the house. I spent most of the rest of the dream gardening. I’m not sure, but I think this may have been the blandest dream anyone’s ever had in the entire history of mankind.

  41. Dave Says:

    I had a dream last night that one of my mates was talking to me but they had no nose. I’m going to look up the symbology for it tonight because it’s weird.

  42. ugeine Says:

    Maybe it’s your subconscious screaming at you Napoleon. And your subconscious is a dullard.

    I had a dream last night that I was running around my house getting beaten on by crack-heads (I assume it was crack-heads, what’s the drug that melts your teeth and gums again?), because my subconscious is one action packed motherfucker.

  43. Napoleon Says:

    That’s crystal-meth, Ugeine.

  44. ugeine Says:

    That’s the one. They were bloody scary, too. One of them kind of looked like a toothless hick from a cowboy film. You know the kind that doesn’t have any lines, but would just laugh and wheeze.

  45. Napoleon Says:

    “To see a vegetable or fruit garden in your dream, indicates that your hard work and diligence will pay off in the end. It is also symbolic of stability and inner growth.”

    That’s according waffling internet dream interpretation site ‘Dream Moods’. Hard work? Diligence? Stability? INNER GROWTH?

    Bloody Guardian-readin’, leftie, pinko, hippy bastards.

  46. ugeine Says:

    Does it say what getting an ass whoop from a meth junkie means? Maybe Saturn has something good for me?

  47. Napoleon Says:

    http://dreammoods.com/cgibin/chasedreams.pl?method=exact&header=dreamid&search=chaseintro

    See for y’self, Ugeine.

  48. charliemingles Says:

    I dreamt last night I was being chased down a tunnel by a huge pink snake. I was worried this might indicate some sort of represed homoerotic tendencies. But thankfully, when we went into a tunnel on the train this morning I was actually attacked by a giant pink snake.

    I was mightily relieved – as I was just saying to my boyfriend when I was sucking his cock.

  49. Napoleon Says:

    BOOM BOOM!

  50. ugeine Says:

    I could of bloody told you that! Astrology, my anus.

    ‘If you have a dream in which you are riding a hot blond, you are probably thinking about sex.’

  51. ugeine Says:

    Aaah, did anybody see that pretentious bastard from ‘new best band in the world ™’ Glasvegas on Buzzcocks? What an arse.

  52. Dave Says:

    CM – BBC RADIO won’t buy your scripts? And why?

    I dreamed of cock last night…but luckily it was the bird and not the, haha, penis. I also dreamt of a cartoon me and NC running naked through the pages of Classic Rock, like a A-Ha video but not as well drawn. Sexier.

  53. ugeine Says:

    Napoleon, how’s the restraining order coming along?

  54. Napoleon Says:

    There was no sign of either crackheads, cocks or Dave in my gardening dream.

  55. charliemingles Says:

    thanks dave. I like to deliberately lower the quality of my work from time to time to give idiots some false hope.

  56. charliemingles Says:

    whats this obsession you have with last of the summer wine napoleon? you shuold have that looked at.

  57. Napoleon Says:

    Do you think the BBC would buy my script for a show, Mingles. It’s half an hour of me reading out the names of people I believe should be publicly strangled.

  58. charliemingles Says:

    I think channel dave might go for that one. Having said that, the last thing they did that I wrote was in 2005. and that was shite. so Ive not exactly got my finger on the pulse like .

    I suspect that if you want to get it made, it will have to pass the mustard of young chaps like dave – theyre who the corporation are trying to woo these days, I believe.

    Id watch it though. especially if it had a newly-pregnant mylene klass presenting it in the shower.

    dont the daily mail already do that show though?

  59. Dave Says:

    FARMER: CAN I BUY SOME PLUMBS PLEASE?

    MAN: WE DON’T SELL PLUMBS HERE!

    FARMER: BUT THAT GUY SHOUTED PLUMBS OVER THERE….

    MAN: THIS IS AN AMUSEMENT ARCADE, HE’S PLAYING ON A FRUIT MACHINE

    FARMER: WELL PLUMBS ARE A FRUIT, AREN’T THEY?

    MAN: YES.

    (c) Dave 2008

  60. charliemingles Says:

    the best 34 seconds you’ll see for a very very long time: David Lynch’s succint opinion on product placement in movies.

  61. Napoleon Says:

    So a naked Myleene would be reading out the names? That could be a bit awkward, Mingles. She’s one of the ones I want stranglin’.

  62. ugeine Says:

    Where’s your sense of comedy, NP? Imagine the following scene:

    Myleene (covering her modesty): And the next person that Napoleon wants strangled is…. Myleene klass?!?!?

    *shepherds hook comes from stage left, hooks her round the neck and drags her off*

  63. Napoleon Says:

    I wouldn’t want her dragged off, Ugeine. The point of my new show – Strangle Them All! – is that these bastards are publicly strangled. There’d be no point in stranglin’ her off screen … where’s the fun in that?

  64. Napoleon Says:

    And they shouldn’t have shot that poor Brazilian boy in that tube station …

    THEY SHOULD HAVE STRANGLED HIM!

  65. ugeine Says:

    Well, how about this for a re-write? Instead of getting dragged off, a noose falls round her neck, and as she struggles the podium she’s standing on turns out to be a trap door, which snaps open, and as she kicks ‘the final countdown’ plays.

  66. Who Says:

    Nappers, your cabbage dream means you are ‘cultivating’ and ‘nurturing’. You are keeping yourself tidy in order to get the best out of yourself. S’true, I got a book with all dream meanings in it.

    I dreamt I snogged that idiot radio pretty boy George Lamb. He was promptly sick all over his stupid shoes. That one isn’t in my book.

  67. Napoleon Says:

    Ugeine – That’s hanging her. I want to see these people strangled with hands. HANDS.

    Who – STOP CALLING ME ‘NAPPERS’, DAMN YOU!

    Cultivating and nurturing what? About the only thing I’m cultivating and nurturing at the moment is a gut’s worth of bad wind. Are you telling me my dream indicated I’d spend the next day farting? If so, I could have told my subconscious that and saved it the bother of constructing an imaginary head-garden for me to work on.

  68. Who Says:

    I can understand you not liking Piqued calling you Nappers, but I thought you’d like me calling you Nappers. I think it’s cute. But if you don’t like it, I won’t call you Nappers anymore.

    You’re nuturing them things in your life what’s important. All that sort of shit. I don’t know, it’s what the book says!

    Your digestive system + cabbage = apocolypse. Don’t eat them blasted cabbages.

  69. Napoleon Says:

    I only ever eat cabbage raw on the top of doner kebabs. Can’t stand it cooked as I went to school in the 1980s – the decade where prolonged cabbage-boiling reached its zenith.

    On the ‘Nappers’ front, I realise I’m pissing into the wind with my protests. I am, and will forever be, ‘Nappers’ whether I like it or not. You bastards.

  70. ugeine Says:

    Who, Napoleon prefers the following knicknames: Napster, Nappy, Lord N, Napoleon Wit Attitude, ‘poly, Po-dog, N to the pizzle, the crazy world of Arthur Brown.

  71. Swineshead Says:

    He’s also fond of ‘Nips’.

  72. Napoleon Says:

    I bloody don’t, but you carry on, you rats.

  73. ugeine Says:

    Nipple Napple?

  74. Dave Says:

    I call Napoleon Father.

  75. Swineshead Says:

    Reggae Reggae Nips?

  76. charliemingles Says:

    Napoleon: I’m with you on that 05.31.08 post. It’s beyond satire – either that or the man is a comedy genius.

    To coin a brilliant and very catchy new phrase: you cannot make it up.

  77. Napoleon Says:

    It’s great, Mingles. It’s a shame he deleted my steroid-enhanced comment about grounts, carrabaloid poundage and noidal growth. Obviously, I’m not musclebound enough to comment on this Atlas’s site.

  78. charliemingles Says:

    I half-expected to see one of your comments. Its hard to resist, isnt it.

    I was too scared he’d kick sand in my face.

    I wish I’d thought of this though. Great idea for a spoof column/blog.

  79. indy Says:

    charliemingles: late one, but! i prefered the trap to the century of the self. did you see the adam curtis bit on tv journalism on screen wipe?

  80. charliemingles Says:

    I did indy, great stuff. hes the master. all hail.

  81. piqued Says:

    Dead Set managed to improve as it went along but the death of the producer (the best thing about the whole show) was a complete rip off of the ‘choke on them’ scene in Day of the Dead, wholly predictable and disappointing when it came to fruition.

    Btw, I know the location of that lock, if someone slips me a cool 10p I will divulge my sources.

  82. Swineshead Says:

    Thanks for regurgitating what I’d already mentioned a day late, Piqued.

    The producer ripped to shreddies, guts hanging out and all, like the army boss in Day of the Dead

  83. piqued Says:

    Soz, boss appeared and fucked my concentration

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