Dead Snow (2009)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-12-20 08:00

Written by: Tommy Wirkola, Stig Frode Henriksen
Directed by: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Jeppe Laursen, Charlotte Frogner and Jenny Skavlan

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

ďWe should have gone to the beach like I told you."

How many horror movies start with a bunch of kids going up to a remote cabin where the cell phone reception is non-existent? Iím guessing there have been a half dozen this year alone, but Dead Snow is a little different in the sense that one of the characters (himself a big film nerd) asks this question. Maybe that isnít really all that different since weíve been living with smug, self-aware horror for a while now, but at least this lets you know that Dead Snow is going to have some brains.

Brains thatíll eventually be eaten, that is, as this particular cabin is built upon a land haunted by zombies--Nazi zombies, to be precise. When a bunch of kids decide to head up there for a weekend retreat, they arenít aware of this, of course; they even laugh it off when a strange old man warns them of the undead roaming the nearby woods in search of some gold they once pillaged when they were among the living. As it turns out, said stash of gold is buried within their cabin, which doesnít bode well when Captain Herzog and his undead army show up and begin ripping them apart.

Aside from the notable distinctions (a snowy setting, Nazis), Dead Snow doesnít really offer anything surprising--unless you consider high quality to be surprising. And at this point, it sort of is, at least for anyone who has endured the horde of zombie films that have emerged in the last few years. This Norwegian romp brings a lot of style, thrills, and humor to a well-worn formula; itís movies like this that remind you that a movie can still be pretty good even if it is quite familiar. I do think that the subtle self-awareness helps; this is hardly a cheeky affair (how many movies seem to be straining too hard with their meta gymnastics?), but itís just clever enough to skirt around the familiarity.

Itís also undeniably slick, as director Tommy Wirkola directs this with a smooth ease. Something about it feels as clean and pure as the snowy landscapes, with the editing being similarly crisp. A well-paced effort that mixes laughs, dread, and schlock, Dead Snow is one of the most nicely-crafted gross-out movies in recent memory, recalling the likes of Sam Raimi. While the characters arenít the most memorable sort, the cast is solid enough, and their interactions are pretty fun. The guys especially trade some bawdy banter, and I think most viewers will gravitate towards Erlend (Jeppe Laursen), the chubby film nerd wearing the Dead Alive shirt that inexplicably scores some outhouse sex with one of the girls.

I suppose itís arguable that thereís little real through-line to the story; none of the characters really emerge as the main character, and few even get much of a subplot. One of the guys does take off looking for his girlfriend, who made the mistake of skiing across the mountain to meet them; the only problem here is that we know this is a futile effort since we see her get mauled in the filmís opening sequence. As such, once the action comes, it comes rather furiously, with characters getting offed seemingly at random. A huge misstep is made when the most memorable ones are among the first to go, though I guess that does kind of keep you on your toes--you really have no idea who may die off, which is a bit exciting.

I have some other minor quibbles, such as the preponderance of ear-achingly bad nu-metal music and some poorly rendered CGI effects inserts, but even these are washed away by the avalanche of grue. Thatís to be expected in a zombie flick, since these things generally degenerate into watching the undead get mowed down and scattered about. And that certainly happens, but not before the undead have their way first in an impressive away of sick, gross gags. Heads are caved in, bodies are drawn and quartered, among other over-the-top eviscerations. Raimi is also echoed in some of the splatstick gags, such as one that finds a guy clinging to a zombieís intestine as he dangles over the cliff. The silliness culminates in a great sequence thatíll probably remind you of Zombieland (though this was released first), as a bunch of the guys arm themselves and hack their way through a horde with various sharp implements.

Dead Snow is a fine addition to both the modern zombie canon and the Nazi zombie sub-genre, where I suppose itís right up there with Shock Waves. Its zombies are even distinctive and awesomely designed, coming with their own mythology and managing to be more than a bunch of shuffling flesh eaters. Instead, theyíre out of that mold of smart, quick-moving zombies that can wield weapons and such, so that further separates Dead Snow from the pack. It even manages to throw in one genuinely suspenseful and unsettling sequence thatíll make you terrified of ever being buried in the snow. Another one of those films that came out some time ago that Iím just now getting around to, IFC bowed this one sometime last February on DVD and Blu-ray; having sampled the latter, I can say itís a pretty strong presentation, with the DTS-MA Norwegian soundtrack being akin to a sonic assault. This thing is loud and boomy, which is only really problematic when that grating metal music kicks in; at any rate, be prepared to dial your volume down from its usual level, because itís super loud. IFC also packed in a number of extras, including a couple of behind-the-scenes features (one clocks in at nearly 50 minutes), a look at the filmís effects, a chronicle of the crewís journey on the US festival circuit, a feature on the sound design, some deleted scenes, outtakes, and trailers. Even if youíve sworn off zombie movies after being swallowed by their recent glut, give this one a shot. Buy it!

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