Studio: IFC Films
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Writer: Tommy Wirkola, Stig Frode Henriksen
Producer: Terje Stroemstad, Tomas Evjen
Stars: Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen, Charlotte Frogner, Lasse Valdal, Evy Kasseth Rosten, Jeppe Beck Laursen, Jenny Skavlan, Ane Dahl Torp, Bjorn Sundquist, Orjan Gamst
On a snowbound winter holiday, eight friends unleash a curse that has them fighting for their lives against undead Nazi soldiers.
Nazi zombies. Any words more than those two would be overkill on the description. Should lingering questions about the nature of the movie remain, one look at the DVD box cover should satisfy all curiosity. The image of a bloody chainsaw dripping above the decapitated head of a zombified Nazi soldier is a firm clue about the tone of the film. And I am reasonably certain that skull on the colonel’s cap was not standard German issue during WWII.
Combining history’s most notorious monsters with contemporary genre fiction’s most infamous creatures seems like such an obvious template that it is a wonder it took until 2009 for someone to make it a popular film. “Dead Snow” is director Tommy Wirkola’s love letter to the earlier films of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. Some might even accuse him of outright theft. Be it homage or rip-off, Wirkola is plainly upfront about his intentions. Between the character wearing the “Braindead” t-shirt and the characters discussing “Evil Dead,” the formula here is anything but secret. Drop the splatter of Peter Jackson’s “Braindead” (a.k.a. “Dead Alive”) into the setup of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” and you pretty much have the plot of “Dead Snow.” Once again, any more description than that would be unnecessary. But here it is anyway:
Seven friends’ holiday in the snow covered mountains of Norway turns into a nightmarish fight for survival when they unwittingly unleash a curse. After stumbling upon an heirloom box of ill-gained valuables, the Nazi soldiers who originally stole the shiny trinkets return from the dead to reclaim the treasure.
Or something like that. The movie is deliberately vague about more than a few things, including why/how these soldiers became zombies in the first place. Those details are unimportant in the grand scheme of what “Dead Snow” means to accomplish, though. The story only makes as much sense as is necessary to kick the action into gear.
Comedy is a sub-genre of horror that is often difficult to do right. The common mistake many horror-comedies make is to set the action in a world so cartoony that an appearance by Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse would not come as a surprise. Could “Scary Movie 5” conceivably take place in any reality we know? No. Could “Dead Snow?” Well, probably not. But it has a subtlety to its comedic touches that almost makes the absurdity that much more plausible.
“Dead Snow” offers the right sized side dish of comedy with its main course of horror. The moments played for laughs always land squarely in the middle of some awful occurrence or zombie attack. This makes them good for a quick chuckle until the action immediately ratchets itself back up again. What to do about amputating appendages bitten by the undead is one zombie trope used slyly for a memorable laugh. A Molotov cocktail mishap provides another big smile. It is only enough to serve as a reminder that the movie is never meant to walk a completely straight line. Although that does not mean that all seriousness is to be dismissed.
Even though the individual scenes of gore are intentionally over-the-top, they too fit just right into the overall tableau. There is a pacing to the shots of spilled innards and torn off limbs that makes the timing have impact without feeling excessive. The undertone of comedy is most welcome in those blood soaked moments when one needs to remember that such an extreme manner of death would be physically impossible, even if the gruesomeness initially tells the brain otherwise.
Wirkola could not have dreamed of a better setting for his Jackson Pollock-esque splatterfest than the crisp, white, mountain show. As if any more attention needed to be drawn to the gore, snow offers the perfect backdrop for showcasing the generous amounts of blood and carnage in all their gratuitous glory. Between the innumerable severed limbs and no less than three different ropes of intestines on display, there are more than enough effective makeup tricks on hand to appreciate. Combine the excellent costuming of the undead soldiers with convincing effects of collapsing cliff sides and the result is a visually impressive presentation.
“Dead Snow” is unlikely to be confused for a film that advances the zombie genre in any meaningful way. Characters have traits with little bearing on any of the events that take place. They are merely pieces of meat to be fed upon, but Wirkola seems okay with that. The emphasis is clearly on the visual presentation just mentioned, and that is perfectly okay. The film is clear about its purpose and deftly walks the line between comedy and horror, serious and pastiche. It can be appreciated for what it is, which is entertainment, rather than criticized for what it is not, which is… well, anything more ambitious than that.
“Dead Snow” is not unlike the box of stolen gold at the center of the plot. It draws coveted attention for no reason other than because it is shiny and enjoyable. That does not mean that the audience is comparable to a cadre of ravenous Nazi zombies. It simply means that looking for any deeper motivation behind the film would really be missing the point.
NOTE: The Norwegian title is "Død Snø."
Review Score: 65