Reality Bites Back: “Dead Set” Ten Years Later

If any case could be made for the advantage of running zombies in the zombie film sub-genre, “Dead Set” would easily trump any argument against the device. I’m a zombie enthusiast who loves the lumbering dead, and in all honesty prefers them above all. “Dead Set” not only endorses the idea of running zombies, but makes turns them on to a world of lazy, complacent television addicts, with remorseless fervor. Like the reality shows that have become fixtures of civilization, we’re turned in to blood thirsty monsters that feed off of one another, and show little empathy for the weak.

In one of the funnier and shocking moments during the big zombie siege in the beginning of “Dead Set,” station manager Patrick barely escapes a charging zombie by running in to a bathroom stall and pushing a wheelchair bound man in front of him. Released in 2008, “Dead Set” is basically “Dawn of the Dead” but set in the UK by their standards and basic familiar set pieces. In place of a giant mall where consumers come to dabble in stores, “Dead Set” is centered on a world that consumes reality television. Characters and the dead are almost always in front of a television screen, and they almost seem to prefer its warm glow most of the time.

With this constant gestures, “Dead Set” makes a statement about how we digest media and how in a world where we’re so painstakingly connected to each other through television, a zombie apocalypse manages to sneak up behind us, and consume mankind without fail. “Dead Set” is a brilliant zombie mini-series that drops the walking dead down in to the world revolving around reality television, and staged theatrics. In a world where society is crumbling all around us, a local television station is much more interested in the latest events of the Big Brother television show.

A game about human politics and sheer idiocy, the station manager can’t be bothered to consider covering the riots taking place in London. “Dead Set” explores the fates of various characters, as soon the zombie hordes trickle in to a large event for “Big Brother” and allows for a pay off that’s horrifying, violent, and funny. When a mob of the show’s fans arrive in legions to catch the latest finale, the directors leads us, the audience, in to a humongous sequence of carnage and gore soaked mayhem, with fans being eaten, bitten in to, and torn apart, all to the gaping maw of fans sitting at their TV.

Television technicians are devoured, and even a local celebrity has her throat ripped out before our eyes. By dumb luck, only a few people in the studio manage to survive; and of course there are the roommates in the “Big Brother” house who are completely oblivious to the zombie apocalypse that has just occurred. Ironically enough, the zombies that arise are also motivated by the need to watch others, with most of the camera men that have turned, looking in to television screens and windows, watching the roommates attempt to figure out why they’re no longer being viewed on television.

Even in the very final scenes during the credits, we can see the walking dead gathering at a television display, watching the flickering images on the tube. When our base desires are to rip in to the living, we just can not look away from boob tube. “Dead Set” pays homage to George Romero without ever allowing audiences to catch on to the commentary on society. When the victims have died and risen, they’re still captivated by cameras and television, and just can’t turn away.

Assistant Kelly is stuck in an office as her friend rises to eat her co-worker, and manages to narrowly escape the clutches of the dead to make it back to the Big Brother house. Meanwhile station manager Patrick is stuck in a green room with cast mate Pipa, as a zombie lingers outside the room, desperately trying to break in. Concurrently, Kelly’s boyfriend Alex comes across a mysterious female survivor named Riq who helps him escape, and they manage to find a safe haven in an abandoned house by a lake that promises them shelter from the storm.

“Dead Set” while focusing on characters that are smart and clever, also sets down on people primarily selfish and self-centered. Reality shows are prone to casting some of the shrillest and obnoxious people in existence, and this sadly becomes the last remnants of the world, as far as anyone in this studio knows. Kelly is possibly the last lingering thread of intellect and will in this group, and is the only one with the foresight to reach out to people on television when she realizes the live feed for “Big Brother” is still running, despite the massive slaughtering that just occurred hours before.

Sadly, much of the finale plays out in the way a reality show would, with the roommates and surviving characters having to figure out who among them has to make the hard decisions. There’s the interplay about politics and popularity, even when the zombies have overrun the world, and they’re all so self-obsessed they can’t even figure out how to survive for more than a week.

A decade later, “Dead Set” is still a haunting, wonderful, and horrifying twist on the zombie sub-genre, with a still very relevant commentary about media consumption. It sticks to the classic tropes about humanity being incapable of working with one another for a common goal, while also touching on the inherent need to be the voyeur, even when we’re nothing but flesh eating husks.

It’ll creep under your skin and won’t leave for days, I guarantee.