Dead Set -- TV Review

Part horror, part humor, this zombie film falls short on several levels.

Suppose flesh-eating zombies were everywhere, and the "Big Brother” house was one of the few — or maybe the only — place of refuge. Now there’s a dilemma. Would you cast your fate with the self-obsessed oddballs who were carefully selected for their propensity to bicker or would you take your chances with the zombies?

If you did choose to hole up inside the “Big Brother” house, how long do you think it would be before the artificial walls crumble and society — or the fun-house mirror version of it portrayed on reality shows — comes to an end? Those are some of the questions entertained by Charlie Brooker’s semiserious, semihumorous weeklong series, an odd mixture of parody and putrid violence that is neither as suspenseful nor as clever as it pretends to be.

IFC’s “Dead Set” is set in the U.K., where “Big Brother” is, if anything, even more popular than it is stateside — and possibly more outrageous. As it starts, a plague of zombies inexplicably has been visited on the U.K. Humans who are bitten but not consumed turn into even more zombies, and within a couple of days, the country is teeming with the undead.

Isolated from all news and preoccupied with how viewers perceive them, the remaining houseguests have no idea about the zombie takeover. Even when the zombies storm the TV studio on Eviction Night, the houseguests are blissfully unaware. It isn’t until Big Brother stops watching that they sense something is wrong.

The film is produced by Zeppotron, a division of “Big Brother” producer Endemol, which allowed production to occur in the actual “Big Brother” house. The host of the British version, Davina McCall, plays herself, too. The use of the house is particularly helpful because, in all other respects, the show falls short of even matching the production values of “The Blair Witch Project.”

For all its gore, “Dead Set” has a frightening lack of suspense. Then again, except for Kelly (Jaime Winstone), a “Big Brother” producer with a dysfunctional love life, most of the characters are so lacking in humanity that the transition to zombie isn’t much of a leap.

The dark humor mostly is invested in the role of “Big Brother” showrunner Patrick (Andy Nyman), an obnoxious, crude bully, a master of intimidation and by far the show’s most interesting character. Before the studio is overrun, Patrick’s biggest worry is whether news of the zombie menace will pre-empt that night’s eviction ceremony.

Overall, the most challenging part of this film is not cheering for the zombies.

IFC will cut the film into five pieces: a one-hour premiere and four nightly half-hour episodes. On Halloween, all five segments will air consecutively starting at 8 p.m.

Airdates: 12-1 a.m. Monday, Oct. 25; 12-12:30 a.m., Tuesday-Friday, Oct. 26-29 (IFC)
Production: Zeppotron
Cast: Jaime Winstone, Andy Nyman, Riz Ahmed, Liz May Brice, Shelley Conn, Warren Brown, Beth Cordingly, Adam Deacon, Kathleen McDermott, Kevin Eldon, Raj Ghatak, Davina McCall
Executive producers: Charlie Brooker, Annabel Jones
Line producer: Angie Daniell
Filming producer: Chrissy Skins
Director: Yann Demange
Writer: Charlie Brooker
Director of photography: Tal Radcliffe
Production designer: Chris Lightburn-Jones
Editor: Chris Wyatt
Music: Dan Jones
Set decorator: Tina Jones
Casting: Catherine Willis