Dead Set (Yann Demange, 2008)

“Four Words: Best. Eviction. Show. Ever.” – Dalton Ross, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY.

Drafthouse Films LogoBritain has been hit by an epic problem.  The dead are returning to life and attacking the living.  The people they kill get up and kill.  And it’s spreading like wildfire.  Within 48 hours, England’s entire social structure has collapsed, news channels have dropped their broadcasts, and tiny enclaves of people struggle to survive, fighting around the clock against the growing hordes of the living dead.  Blissfully unaware of these horrific events are the current contestants of the reality TV program Big Brother, safely cocooned within the show’s house until eviction night when the zombie apocalypse descends on the studio.  In a cruel reflection of the game show they are cast in, they fall one by one, devoured by the hungry, unthinking masses outside.  Staying alive requires teamwork, a tricky job when the housemates have been specifically selected by the show’s producers to drive one another crazy.  From the imagination of Charlie Brooker comes Dead Set, a chilling black comedy drenched in the blood and gore of a horror masterpiece.

Special Features:

  • Viewable as all 5 episodes or as a single, uninterrupted feature
  • Interviews with director Yann Demange and writer/creator Charlie Brooker
  • On the Set with Dead Set, cast interviews from the set of the series
  • Davina McKill, a behind the scenes look at the performance of Davina McCall, host of Big Brother
  • House of the Dead, a guided tour of Dead Set‘s Big Brother House with Charlie Brooker
  • I Am Patrick, Here Me Roar, an interview with actor Andy Nyman
  • Army of the Dead, interviews with extras and footage of filming the series’ climax
  • SFX episodes You’ve Got to Get Them in the Head, Davina, Head Shots, and Patrick Gives Head, interviews and behind the scenes featurettes on the special effects work of Dead Set
  • Deleted and extended scenes, including Pippa’s eviction and an 8 Out of 10 Cats segment specially recorded for Dead Set
  • TV spots
  • 20 page booklet of photos, production stills, and promotional materials, plus Simon Pegg’s article for The Guardian denouncing running zombies and Charlie Brooker’s responding article

Housemate Edition – Package Includes:

  • Dead Set on Blu-ray or Standard DVD featuring over 2 hours of bonus material
  • High Quality 720p Digital Download Available on Street Date
  • 27″ x 40″ Poster
  • Dead Set T-shirt with Big Brother logo designed specially for the series

Watch Dead Set episodes here – 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5

Pre-dating The Walking Dead and making it the first zombie-centric TV program, Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set imagines a zombie outbreak from the unlikely perspective of the reality television series Big Brother.  As the undead apocalypse sweeps through Britain, Big Brother‘s production team watches in horror as live programming gives way to news coverage of riots, afraid that their eviction night show will get bumped as well.  The situation proves far worse when hordes of zombies enter the production facility, killing many and infecting the same with their plague.  At the centre of Dead Set is Kelly (Jaime Winstone), a production runner for the show who finds safety within the confines of the Big Brother House itself, but is left to rely on the histrionic and fame-seeking contestants therein for her survival.  At the same time, Kelly’s vile producer Patrick (Andy Nyman) is trapped in a green room with evicted contestant/Scottish ditz Pippa (Kathleen McDermott), besieged by the ravenous, zombie-infected host of the show, Davina McCall (playing herself).  Away from the Big Brother facility, Kelly’s estranged boyfriend Riq (Riz Ahmed) survives with the help of a hardbitten woman named Alex (Liz May Brice) and tries to work his way back to Kelly.  Essentially a siege film, like Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968), Zulu (Cy Endfield, 1964), and Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter, 1976), the survivors face the usual challenges of fortifying their defences, traveling for supplies, tending to the injured, and balancing competing personalities and goals.

On its face, Dead Set‘s cultural criticism should strike only a single note and wear out its welcome long before its fifth episode concludes.  Its premise of Big Brother contestants packaged as cultural commodities for mass consumption becoming foodstuffs for the literally mindless throngs outside the House seems far too on the nose.  Yet, Dead Set manages to find nuance and uncertainty within its bloody frenzy.  One might have expected Brooker and Demange to have spent longer contrasting the triviality of the House with the life and death stakes at play in the outside world, pitting arguments over crisps against the decision to crush the skull of what had once been your mum, but they do not.  We and the housemates are very quickly launched into the typical siege format where the living defends their refuge from the growing numbers of the undead.  In doing so, Dead Set quickly pulls back the curtain on the reality of reality television, and part of the joy of watching Dead Set is seeing how much of the show is performance and how much involves real personalities.  Sure, Pippa is actually dim and Space (Adam Deacon) remains insightful and calm, but we also get to relish in seeing the flamboyant Grayson (Raj Ghatak) flip into his devoted, compassionate, and professional mode as a nurse, rankle at the hypocrisy and weakening will of outsider Joplin (Kevin Eldon), and wonder at the transformation of bimbo Veronica (Beth Cordingly) to a canny and ruthless survivor.  The irony of Dead Set is that its preposterous high concept is designed to fulfill the promise of reality television by forcing its characters to drop their camera-awareness and image-consciousness through a life-threatening ordeal.  These contestants may never have been polite, but Brooker’s terrible and hilarious statement examines the ends that must be reached for them to become truly real in their actions.  What is more, Dead Set concludes with images of an even worse reality, of zombies looking into cameras and being watched by zombies staring at television screens.  The sad statement on reality is that the transfixed viewer is left watching themselves, facing their own blank expression that waits in anticipation of nothing.

Dead SetMany descriptions of Dead Set mistakenly assert that the show was filmed within the actual UK Big Brother House.  In fact, the set was specifically designed and constructed for the mini-series, as was the version of the Big Brother logo and other elements.  Still, Dead Set works directly within the Big Brother franchise (going so far as to have host Davina McCall and past contestants make cameos).  The program is a creation of Zeppotron, part of the same production group responsible for the actual Big Brother show.  Dead Set aired on the same network as Big Brother, presented by E4 on October 27, 2008, playing for 5 nights straight, and following the 2008 edition of Big Brother by 6 weeks.  Of the promotional art created for the show and its disc editions, we’re most fond of this image of the empty, blood-drenched set.  While other posters rely solely on the Big Brother logo or a snarling zombie face in shadow, this image is evocative and colourful, distinguishing it from the spare, black cover proposed for Black Mirror.

Credits:  Dead Set has previously aired on IFC in North America, but has not yet found an official release on hard media on this side of the Atlantic.  It may be a big assumption that disc rights could be obtained by Drafthouse Films, but we can hope.  The dual format of stand-alone episodes and feature-length film might appeal to Drafthouse, perhaps providing screening options in their theatres.  All special features are ported over from the UK disc edition and can be viewed here, here, here, and here.  Finally, we thought the print debate between Simon Pegg and Charlie Brooker over Dead Set‘s use of running zombies was too good to miss and made for an enjoyable, irreverent, and surprisingly thoughtful addition to a Drafthouse Films release.

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