Studio: Well Go USA
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Writer: Tommy Wirkola, Stig Frode Henriksen, Vegar Hoel
Producer: Terje Stroemstad, Kjetil Omberg
Stars: Vegar Hoel, Martin Starr, Jocelyn DeBoer, Ingrid Haas, Stig Frode Henriksen, Amrita Acharia, Orjan Gamst
After Herzog’s zombie arm is grafted onto his body, cabin massacre survivor Martin raises an army of undead Russian soldiers to battle the Nazi zombies.
Even without reading a story about or an interview with writer/director Tommy Wirkola, anyone who had just simply seen the first “Dead Snow” movie would know how gaga Wirkola is over the films of Sam Raimi. With the sequel “Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead,” Wirkola evolves his own burgeoning undead franchise along its natural arc of “Evil Dead” homage by practically skipping the double dog dare of the second movie and going straight for over-the-top “Army of Darkness” outrageousness.
Starting mere moments after the first film concludes, lone “Dead Snow” survivor Martin’s brief respite from battling the horrors of shambling Nazi corpses takes a terrible turn when circumstances sew the dead right arm of evil zombie Herzog onto Martin’s disfigured body. Even better than a chainsaw, Martin discovers that his supernatural limb has a Lazarus effect power to raise the dead. When it comes time to resume the fight against Herzog’s undead army, Martin decides there is no better way to join the fray than by resurrecting a Communist Russian undead army of his own.
To lend Martin a helping hand, and to aid the film in reaching a broader audience turned off by subtitled movies from Norway, Martin Starr, Jocelyn DeBoer, and Ingrid Haas hop over the pond from America as the nerdy know-it-all “Zombie Squad.” What their personalities lack in originality they make up for with English-speaking dialogue that requires only half of the movie to be read along the bottom of the screen.
During a Stanley Film Festival 2014 post-screening Q&A, Martin Starr surmised that adding familiar American faces was almost certainly intended to increase marketability, and no one can fault the filmmakers for wanting to reach as many viewers as possible. More interestingly, Starr politely argued against the assessment that “Red vs. Dead” represented a significant tonal shift in terms of increasingly absurd yuk-yuks compared to the first film. Starr’s interpretation was that the humor of both films is similar, but it seemed less obvious in “Dead Snow” because of a lost in translation effect.
That’s an interesting observation, but I disagree. “Dead Snow” was a slow ramp from straight horror to snarky black humor whereas “Dead Snow 2” is wall-to-wall jokes and ceiling-to-floor gore. Depending on which bowl you want your Nazi zombies served from, the switch to a slapstick splatterfest will either be applause worthy or cringe inducing.
Yet it isn’t so much the tonal imbalance that makes “Dead Snow 2” mildly disappointing as it is Wirkola and company’s unwillingness to pull out a stepladder to reach above low-hanging comedic fruit. Sight gags and cheek-planted tongues bring smiles and belly bursts, but the jokes are of a cheap and obvious variety when the lunacy of the “Dead Snow” concept is open wide for more inventive exploration.
Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is never going to be used to better comedic effect than it was in the Will Ferrell comedy “Old School.” But the song’s presence as a punchline accompaniment to the “Dead Snow 2” finale highlights Wirkola and company’s contentment to be a bridesmaid when it comes to being creative with their stabs at wittiness.
Starr, DeBoer, and Haas are stereotypical glasses-wearing nerds who make outdated “Star Wars” quotes and bemoan “what is wrong with this country?” when they can’t buy guns upon arriving in Norway. These are recycled jokes good for a brief smirk, but not a satisfied knee slap. The same goes for a side plot about a helpful museum assistant coming to terms with his sexuality. Playfully dancing around his coming out of the closet has some inherent humor, but not as much as it might have if it were 20 years ago when the idea had not already been overplayed.
These are the characterization issues that keep “Dead Snow 2” in follower footsteps of comedic concepts instead of setting trends on its own. “Red vs. Dead” is daring and full of flair when it comes to flinging severed limbs and staging ridiculously wild fight scenes. But the script does not take the same bold risks with the context behind its setups to create a story with the same kind of punch that Martin’s supernatural zombie arm is packing.
Personally, I would have preferred that the “Dead Snow” mythology remained in a territory that only tickled around the edges of snickering humor. At the same time, it is hard to ignore that the crowd-pleasing aesthetic of the sequel’s personality has kept midnight festival audiences roaring with enthusiastic laughter. Exploding babies, bumbling cops, and more impossibly inventive uses for intestines than you could possibly shake a stick at ensure a good time for anyone not prone to taking things too seriously. I just wish Wirkola put something more substantial in the basket for everyone else to chew on, as well.
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 65