Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: Dead Snow

The great thing about horror movies is, whether the flick is good or bad, you can still have a good time. Even truly terrible pieces of work make for a fun evening. Hell, Mystery Science Theater 3000 proved that for over a decade. And since Netflix gave us the beautiful gift of Instant Watch (a godsend for horror fans if ever there was one), mountains of laughably bad films are just a click away. But what about when a movie is just... OK? Is there still fun to be had? In the case of Tommy Wirkola's Dead Snow, the answer is a definite maybe.

If How To Survive A Horror Movie has taught us anything, it's to never, ever enter a log cabin in the middle of nowhere. They're like magnets for evil spirits, werewolves, and zombies. Apparently, this book is not available in Norway. The film opens with two cars full of medical students on their way to a remote location in Oksfjord for Easter vacation. After hours of driving, they then have to walk 45 minutes to the cabin. At this point, you just know that no one is surviving this. The students start to party, but get interrupted by a mysterious hiker who comes to the door asking for a cup of coffee (director Tommy Wirkola). After insulting their java-brewing skills, he shares a sordid tale about the area's history involving Nazi soldiers, cursed treasure, and lots of bloodshed.


This doesn't faze the kids in the least, however, and after he leaves, they get back to their beer, sex, and general nonsense. When one of them finds a cigar box under the house stuffed with gold coins, things start to get hairy. And bloody. Seems the old man with the bad manners wasn't kidding about the Nazis. Now the group has to find a way back down to their cars, without being chewed to pieces by swastika wearing zombie hordes. "We should have gone to the beach like I told you!"

Dead Snow wastes no time launching into genre stereotypes; there's the horny guy, the horny girl, the funny fat guy, the uptight girlfriend, and so on. This doesn't make the characters unlikable, just shallow. We learn just enough to decide who we want to see survive and who should get the ax, or the teeth in this case. Unfortunately, the annihilation in this film is complete and total. No one makes it out alive, and that rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it's just my naive American film-goer brain, but I like a happy ending, or at least an ending that offers a sliver of hope. And why not keep somebody alive in case the studio wants a sequel?

For people who like their zombies to stick to certain rules, this movie will probably disappoint. Wirkola kept the back story of how the Nazis became zombies in the first place a mystery, like most any zombie film, but he also gives them abilities that wouldn't fit the general description of the average ghoul. These Aryan monsters run, are shown to problem solve, and at least in the case of General Herzog (Dead Snow's "boss zombie"), they can speak. Their motivation seems to be protecting their cursed gold rather than eating the flesh of the living, which in my mind makes them more like the crew of the Black Pearl than your typical flesh eater. Not that there's no sign of influences. Wirkola borrows quite a bit from masters like Sam Raimi and George Romero, with a sprinkling of Edgar Wright for good measure. This would be annoying if overdone, but the director knew where to hold back and where to let the homages (and body parts) fly.

Where this thing really shines is in the kills, and sometimes, that's all you want. One character has his head ripped apart, another watches as a zombie munches on her intestines, and as for what happens to Martin... suffice it to say, I'd rather die than live with his injuries. Martin was by far my favorite character. He has the most interesting quirk: a medical student who's afraid of blood! I knew from the second they revealed that little tidbit where the story was going to go, but it didn't matter. The battle he and the horny guy get into with dozens of charging zombies was the highlight of the film, overloaded with gore and some solid cinematography.

Another element that really worked in this film's favor was the setting. The snow-covered mountains and trees were quite beautiful, and really contributed to the feeling of isolation. The movie wasn't afraid to spend several minutes just panning over the landscape, illustrating just how stranded the characters are.

To wrap it up, Dead Snow did entertain. I laughed, I gagged, and with the right group, I'd probably watch it again. I'm just glad that I didn't have to pay anything for it. It's an OK original movie, and in this age of crappy horror remakes, OK and original equals pretty great.

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