CAPSULE: DEAD SNOW [DØD SNØ] (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Tommy Wirkola

FEATURING: Vegar Hoel, Charlotte Frogner, and other professional but fairly interchangable Scandinavian actors

PLOT: Eight medical students travel to a remote ski cabin for a little rest and relaxation,

Still from Dead Snow (2009)

only to find the snowbound retreat is haunted by pesky Nazi zombies.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  If it’s weird, it’s weird in a familiar way.  There’s a powerful “been there, done that” feel here that will satisfy those who just want to have another laugh in the face of the upcoming zombie apocalypse.

COMMENTS:  Despite garnering some minor praise after a successful midnight run at Sundance in 2009, Dead Snow is a derivative and dull affair—until a derivative but no-longer-dull final half hour, when it redeems itself with a nonstop, intestine spewing Nazi zombie slayathon that sweeps away all logical objections in a river of blood.  Even the key conceit of fascists as undead villains is nothing new—see Shock Waves (1977), Zombie Lake (1980), Oasis of the Zombies (1981)—it’s just that it hasn’t been done in quite a while.  The only thing that’s somewhat original about Dead Snow is the setting: I can’t remember a zombie movie that’s been played out in a winter wonderland (to better show the blood splatters on the virgin snow).  The setup seems to drag on forever, with eight medical students driving and hiking to a cabin in the scenic mountains, snowmobiling, listening to Scandinavian pop-metal, playing board games and drinking beer, and all of the time not making much of an impression as characters.  Eventually a grizzled old man from Oslo central casting wanders into the cabin to tell them the backstory about a unit of Nazis who hid some treasure in the region before the locals massacred them with farm implements.  Low-impact deaths of minor characters occasionally lighten the mood.  Dead Snow is a comedy, but mostly in the sense that it doesn’t take itself seriously, not in a way that makes you laugh.  The movie hits every possible horror movie cliche on its way to the final slaughter.  Instead of going to the trouble of thinking up some original twists, the script gives you a character who’s a horror nerd: he wears a Braindead t-shirt and ticks off the films director Tommy Wirkola plans to rip off.  His presence is a wink that’s meant to make you forgive the movie for being so freaking obvious, but since Scream, the self-aware horror fan who exposes genre cliches has already become a cliche of its own. (Soon, we’ll see movies where people trapped in a horror movie are aware of the cliche that people trapped in horror movies are aware of horror movie cliches: “Dude, this is just like in Dead Snow where the med students headed to the cabin in the woods start naming horror movies that start with young people headed to a cabin in the woods!”)

Much (if not all) is forgiven at the midway point, when the Night of the Living Dead ripoff begins and the surviving characters spend the rest of the movie with their faces drenched in Karo syrup and red food dye.  By the time the Dead-Alive [Brainead]/Evil Dead II ripoff begins, zombie gore fanatics will have forgotten and forgiven the movie’s early reels.  Outrageous gore scenes involve a man scaling a cliff with the aid of a partially disemboweled zombie’s intestinal tract, a zombie massacre incongruously scored to a hummable rock anthem, and a future doctor’s promising career cut short when eight animated Nazi corpses pull him in half with goosestepping precision.  The action scenes are well-shot and edited and thrilling; the filmmakers obviously saved all their inspiration for the third act.  If you just can’t get enough zombie carnage and severed limbs, this should temporarily slake your thirst for blood.  If you’re looking for something outside the box, Dead Snow arrives about twenty years too late.

An unintended consequence of Wirkola’s movie is that it makes the Norwegian film industry look insecure and desperate to close a perceived midnight movie gap with the rest of the Western world.  Though Dead Snow may be Norway’s own contribution to international zombie culture, it’s full of references to American films and TV shows—not only to horror movies but to “The Simpsons,” The Terminator, and Indiana Jones.  Other than the snowy tundra, there’s nothing uniquely Norwegian about this movie; in fact, it does the country a disservice by making it look like a land that’s envious of America’s “rich” pop culture, and anxious to fit in with bland monoculture rather than to stand out.  Perhaps “Tommy” Wirkola purposely used this tactic to make the transition easier when Hollywood remakes this product.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a winning slice of surreal arterial spray.”–Bill Gibron, PopMatters.com (contemporaneous)

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