Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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It has been an odd experience tracking the post-Sundance coverage of Tommy Wirkola's Norwegian zombie picture Dead Snow, with more than one review offering criticisms along the lines of "If you take away the snow and the Nazis then it's just another zombie film." Well, yeah, and if you take away the Force and the space ships then Star Wars is just a film about a whiny kid with daddy issues. Does it really make sense to make a film into something other than what it is so that you can then offer up criticisms for what it's not? No, the question people should be asking is whether Wirkola's film works on its own terms, whether or not it's a good zombie film. And the answer to that is a resounding yes. Dead Snow is easily the best and most entertaining zombie picture since Spanish offering [REC] and just misses making the top five of the past decade.

The setup is simple enough: a group of eight Norwegian medical students are headed to a remote cabin in the mountains for some R&R over their Easter break, seven of them travelling by car while the eighth opts for a lengthy cross country hike. The seven pass the time waiting for their final friend in typical fashion - beer, sledding and flirtation - until tension over her failure to arrive on time begins to creep in and the mood finally tips over the edge thanks to a mysterious stranger who arrives with a local tale of Nazi torture, stolen treasure, and a squad of missing soldiers. Cue the carnage.

Given Wirkola's resume - his previous film was a broadly slapstick parody of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill - and the marketing materials the expectation was that Dead Snow would play as a horror comedy with an emphasis on the comedy but this proves - pleasingly - not to be the case. Yes, there is comedy throughout and the film aims far more for entertainment value than does the oppressively creepy [REC], but the humor is generally very sly. Wirkola is very careful not to break character and to not undercut the horror by making his zombies funny so while some gore moments are sure to draw an appreciative laugh - one disemboweling sequence in particular is sure to get the crowd going - there is never an obvious punchline.

Instead, Wirkola does a surprisingly good job of establishing his characters all of whom - with the exception of the obligatory 'mysterious stranger' - come across as entirely believable, likable people. The character dynamics are nothing overly complex - there is no attempt to make them into anything other than college kids off to spend a weekend getting drunk and, maybe, laid - but he gets them right, very quickly establishing the relationships and distinct quirks of each of his main players. Also very strong are the tech elements of the film - the cinematography, in particular, is gorgeous and showcases the natural environment of the film to great effect.

But what fans really want to know about is the zombies. Yes, there are lots. And, yes, they are Nazis. Gore is plentiful though neither excessive nor of the stomach-churning, tortuous variety. While there are a couple of shots that could have benefitted from a more experienced effects crew the region has made huge strides in this area in recent years and Dead Snow boasts the best physical effects of any genre film to come out of the current Nordic wave by a fairly comfortable margin. Wirkola obviously feels no particular compulsion to follow strict zombie dogma and strays from the standard 'rules' on a few fronts: his creatures move very fast, are entirely conscious and organized, and it's never quite clear whether they are infectious. For that matter, it's not clear what made them into zombies in the first place - all that we know is that they're there and they really, really don't like it when people take their gold.

Dead Snow is not entirely without its hiccups - the finale could be a touch stronger, for one thing - but it is a hugely entertaining film, a big time crowd pleaser that will hopefully be hitting the fest circuit soon. If you get the chance, see this thing on the big screen as it was intended.

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More about Dead Snow

eralvinJanuary 30, 2009 1:51 AM

Is there something seriously wrong with me? Why do every review I read praise this movie?

I'm Norwegian, and I saw this film shortly after it premiered here in Norway. I didn't have any big expectation other than I hoped it would be a fun experience. I mean, what can go wrong? You have zombies, *check*. They happen to be Nazis from the second world war, *double check!*. The story is set in a snowy mountain terrain far from civilization (to explain why they didn't have any cellphone coverage), *check*. And it's also the first Norwegian zombie splatter.

Before I continue let me make it clear that even though I haven't seen every zombie film ever made, some of my favorite movies are Brain Dead (which they did cameo in the film, thumbs up), Shaun Of The Dead, 28 Days Later, Night Of The Living Dead and probably some more I've forgotten about.

Dead Snow (Død Snø) is a not a good movie. It's a terrible movie. Yes, I must admit there where bits (no pun intended) that worked, and I actually felt my heart beat a little faster. But that where the classic dark scenes with menacing soundtrack. Easy and standard horror movie tricks.

The zombies themselves? Good makeup (could have pushed it a bit further..), but badly acted. I don't want to start a discussion about fast versus slow zombies. Both work for me. But zombies that act fully consciently(sic?) and are only different from humans by that they enjoy human flesh and look decrepit? Not at all! I mean they're zombies, right? Right?

And I wonder, did the filmmakers forget about the whole Nazi-angle? I mean, there's a ton of history and odd things the real Nazis did. Why not try to come up with something based on that? No? Not even a "Sieg Heil"?

The acting in this movie is however surprisingly good for its genre, even when it's bad. The characters on the other hand are boring and uninteresting. A shame that the director chosed to kill of the ones that had most character, and left us with the boring ones.

What about the gore? Any good? Yes, and no. It mostly contains of fake blood and, of course, severed limbs. But the film cuts are way too fast, and makes it witnessing and appreciating the carnage next to impossible. It also becomes quite repetitive.

I guess my conclusion on Dead Snow is too little, too fast, too mediocre. The filmmakers played it too safe. This film should shock and offend (I mean, Nazis?), but does neither. Instead it ends up looking like a student film with a budget.

flatbed70January 30, 2009 9:19 AM

So you're saying if I make a movie called Robot Monkeys, as long as it actually has robot monkeys in it, that's enough to make it a good movie?

Todd BrownJanuary 30, 2009 1:06 PM

Nope, I'm saying first of all that I don't get the phenomenon of people criticizing a zombie film on the basis that it's a zombie film, second of all that I just don't understand how people could be disappointed or surprised by this film considering it had released two trailers and multiple lengthy clips that all perfectly reflected the content and tone, and third of all that I think it's a well shot, well constructed film that entertained me non-stop from start to finish. There are a couple hiccups but it's a good time.

And I'd love to see a movie called Robot Monkeys.

loompanixJanuary 31, 2009 8:17 AM

I had a hard time staying awake for the first 45 minutes, and I'm not in the minority. Todd, you're just a more excited soul. Everyday is like xmas. Which frankly is not a bad thing.

Todd BrownJanuary 31, 2009 8:20 AM

You haven't seen me in festival programming mode ... I've got a quick trigger finger. I typically give a movie the first third of its running time to impress me and that's the end.