Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dead Snow (Dod Sno): A Movie Review

Director: Tommy Wirkola.

Writer: Stig Frode Henriksen.

A Norwegian film that made its premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, "Dead Snow," is now approaching North American shores, with a limited release this summer. And not since "Shock Waves," has the use of Nazi zombies been given such effective attention. Twenty-nine year old Tommy Wirkola from "Kill Buljo: The Movie," fame, a satire of Tarantino's "Kill Bill," is the creative energy behind this newest zombie genre film. Not skimping on the gore and attempting a few scares along the way "Dead Snow," mostly stays in comedic tones. Also, while paying homage to 80s slasher films of the past "Dead Snow," manages to avoid the many pitfalls of blending horror and comedy through excellent film techniques while owning the many cliches of horror film classics. And these are not just zombies these are frozen Nazi zombies!

The story begins with eight medical students embarking on a weekend of fun, at the local cabin, to party in the Norwegian countryside. One friend travels by cross country skiing while the remaining seven make their way by car. One early chase scene and death hints that journeying in a group is a much better option than going solo, cue credits. Next, the remaining friends find the cottage, and after some sexual innuendo begin to party in typical, one-dimensional character fashion. Not long after the students arrive at the cabin a crazy old man, only known as the wanderer (Bjorn Sundquist) creeps out of the local forest to tell tales of Nazi soldiers and hidden gold. Add some eerie music, shift to nighttime and the fun continues.

Characters Erlend (Jeppe Laursen) and Chris (Jenny Skavlan) quickly move towards sex in a very unromantic setting, the outhouse and find themselves next to die in a grisly fashion. Surviving friends clue in slowly, then strategize a possible counter-attack while a group of Einsatzgruppen Nazi officers, long dead and looking horrendous, terrorize the cabin dwellers with weaponless gropings. Several bodies later Martin (Vegar Hoel) and Roy (Stig Frode Henriksen) battle Colonel Herzog in a series of chainsaw attacks that leaves one cabin burnt to the ground and several other bodies limbless. The gold is found and back in Nazi hands; the conflict quietens briefly, only to be given new life in one last desperate escape attempt, from character Martin, to return back to medical school.

Set in the rural mountainsides of Norway a la "Cold Prey," and the sequel, "Dead Snow," delivers a surprisingly entertaining time in a brief ninety-six minutes. Not taking itself too seriously Wirkola manages to pay respects to many films of the past including; "Evil Dead," "Friday the 13th," and "Dead Alive." Although, not really reinventing the genre Wirkola makes his knowledge of the horror known by introducing one movie geek who knows way too much horror trivia. But one of the many selling points of the film is the breathtaking cinematography, that isolates the characters in the frozen wasteland.

Attempting a few scares early "Dead Snow," primarily focuses on making one laugh. Utilizing intestines as rope and removing any comfort by eye gouging one of the characters, the film generates strong emotions that are mostly meant to be on the lighter side of the spectrum. Many of the deaths in the last act are over-the-top hilarious and campy, with a skidoo becoming the primary killing tool. Some strangeness develops as one character receives a bite from the infected and unbelievably amputates his arm, with a chainsaw; then, this very Ash looking character from the "Evil Dead," series cauterizes his wound with a small gasoline fire. Unfortunately, the scares in the film mostly fail as the tone in music and setting is not right for an intense experience. But the film makes up for this lack with the exciting use of large amounts of blood and gore. "Dead Snow," is a true satire.

The lighting tries to set the horrifying tone of the film by shooting many of the early interactions between ghoul and protagonists in nighttime and the camera techniques vary enough to create for an interesting visual experience; only the music hesitates in quiet moments. "Dead Snow," keeps the mystery going as long as possible by keeping the zombies in the darkness of shadows with heavy breathing punctuating the silence of calmer scenes. Setting up one shot on a lonely hillside with the only illumination from a lantern, inside a tent, set decorator Morten Jakobsen adds a spectacular stunt sequence that while overly bloody in nature comes off horrifyingly well. Wirkola does his best to clue the viewer in as to future transition points and scene changes with long distance shots contrasting close-ups of characters dialoguing. Many audiences will recognize the appearance of the shaky cam during action sequences, that is meant to disorient, but thankfully is not given overuse in the feature. Other utilizations of the camera, including splattering gore, often across the camera lens is effective in creating more laughter.

There are relatively few flaws in "Dead Snow," and this feature film is re-watchable despite an absence of any social message whatsoever and an ending that falls into the category of tragedy. Few plot holes develop and only one continuity error, which revolves around central character Vegard's (Lasse Valdal) escaping from a bunker comes off as uneven. And while the ending is dark and bleak in tone the rest of the film comes off as the director wants, in a comedic fashion.

"Dead Snow," along with a host of other excellent European horror films stands out as being one of the few that balances both comedy and horror in one film. "Dead Snow," must be seen by quality horror film fans, especially when this flick makes its way to theatres during a limited run this summer. Definitely a shining star amongst several other similar low budget films "Dead Snow," spreads its wings in a goretastique cinema battle between the good, the bad, and the undead.

7 Greyish Skulls out of 10.


Dead Snow Review at Variety

Dead Snow at IMDB

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thebonebreaker said...

Excellent Review Michael!

I am definitely looking forward to checking this one out, when it makes its way to the States!

Michael Allen said...

I want to see this one in theatres too, but I doubt the film will make it to Canada. "Dead Snow," will probably get held up at the border by some overbearing customs officer :) But I will cross my fingers.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to see this, I'm sure it'll come out on DVD here in Canada?

- Zacery

Michael Allen said...

I checked today and no release yet.