I'd only heard a few hushed raves regarding Dead Set before an awesome horror geek (this guy, actually) bought me a Region 2 copy during his adventures overseas. Knowing only that A) Dead Set was about a zombie apocalypse as seen through the camera lenses of an obnoxious reality series, and B) it was written and produced by the wonderfully clever Charlie Brooker -- I was very psyched to dive right in and see what Dead Set was all about. But first ... a little basic information:
Dead Set was produced for Britain's E4 network, which I assume is sort of like Showtime over here. As in, it's a pay channel, there's no damn commercials, and you can get as violent / gory / nasty as you want! The series ran from October 27 to 31, and was then released onto DVD only a few days later! That DVD contains all five episodes, which makes Dead Set feel like an epic 140-minute horror film, as opposed to what you'd normally consider a "TV-quality" mini-movie. And make no mistake: This thing is a horror movie, a damn good one, and perhaps the finest "serious" zombie film since 1978's Dawn of the Dead. (I say "serious" that way because A) Shaun of the Dead is awesome, but mainly a comedy, B) 28 Days Later is also fantastic, but it's not a zombie movie, and C) despite a very quick wit and a few moments of tension-releasing silliness, Dead Set is a serious HORROR movie. As in, one that wants to dole out scares and screams and slimy splats of carnage, but it also wants to say just a little bit of something about the world we live in. If Romero's Dawn was an indictment of rampant consumerism, then Dead Set is a kick in the arse of cable-ready conformity.
But the "themes and messages" are the sort of things you can discover (or ignore) for yourself, because Dead Set is, quite simply, one hell of a fun flick. The setting is a big, swanky episode of Big Brother (which is MUCH bigger in Britain than it is over here, and how), and we're introduced to all the players in smart, efficient fashion. There's the hilariously overbearing producer, the hard-working young intern, several disinterested tech monkeys, and (of course) a "reality" ensemble that includes a hot bimbo, a dumb hunk, a weird whiner ... don't pretend you haven't seen a few episodes of Big Brother, The Real World, or Survivor. Suffice to say that TV pundit Brooker takes firm aim on the most annoying stereotypes, lampoons some and subverts a few others. Basically, half the characters are obnoxious enough to make your cheer their demise -- and others are surprisingly human enough to warrant some sympathy when THEY get chomped upon.
Gorehounds will no doubt delight at the film's nastiest bits of mayhem, and it's here that Brooker and series director Yann Demange prove that they're trying to push the envelope just a little. Dead Set is presented almost entirely through hand-held "candid" cameras, and man ... when done properly, this documentary-style approach can bring a lot to the horror game. (And it doesn't hurt that the entire cast is unexpectedly fantastic, especially Andy Nyman and Jaime Winstone.) Frankly I can't remember the last 2+ hour horror film that breezed by at such a slick clip. Were it not for the "episode breaks," I'd have sworn the thing was 102 minutes. And then when it was over, I wished it was even longer.
Fortunately the DVD comes with all sorts of little bells and whistles, so when you manage to be the first horror geek on the (American) block to get the Dead Set DVD, you can break out all sorts of geeky knowledge. Because that can be fun sometimes. No commentaries, unfortunately, but plenty in the way of cast / crew interviews, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and deleted / extended scenes. Trust me when I tell you this one is worth the extra shipping cost from Amazon.uk. Dead Set is far and away one of the best zombie movies I've ever seen. And I've seen 'em all.