Thursday, 8 October 2009

Dead Snow

2009
Dir. Tommy Wirkola

AKA Død Snø

A group of medical students on a skiing holiday in deepest, whitest Norway come face to face with marauding zombie Nazis…

Yes. Zombie Nazis.

Dead Snow is every bit as preposterous as it sounds. In a similar vein to Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, Wirkola’s striking looking film is an outrageous comedy-horror that deftly mixes chills with chuckles and gore with guffaws. The film sets its tone in the opening scene as a young woman flees in terror across a desolate snowscape accompanied by the strains of Dukas’s mischievous symphony The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Director Wirkola wisely keeps her pursuers to the shadows and we only catch the briefest glimpses of them before they set upon the unfortunate woman and tear her asunder.

The film’s cine-literate characters are an amiable bunch and the script (by Wirkola and Stig Frode Henriksen) takes time to establish group dynamics and ease us into the company of the group before all hell breaks loose… And unlike the vast majority of their fellow horror-genre teens, this lot at least make an attempt to work together and fend off the attacks, remaining as level-headed and practical as the situation allows. To begin with anyway.



Whilst the film exhibits its fair share of horror clichés and doesn’t really cover any new ground, Dead Snow manages to tackle a familiar story in a frantic and irreverent manner that ensures it remains entertaining throughout. Besides, there are enough shots of blood on snow to make up for the clichés that speckle the script, including the inclusion of a slasher stock character akin to Crazy Ralph from Friday the 13th, whose sole purpose is to tell the students about the area’s dubious and blood-soaked history and gloomily extol warnings. A gripping scene involving the demise of this nomadic doom-laden wanderer occurs early on as he sets up camp in the middle of the night. Sensing he is not alone, he looks outside his isolated tent. In a haunting, atmospheric and utterly tense few moments we follow his torch light across the dark, snow covered ground to reveal the startling vision of a figure in unmistakable WWII garb looming out of the snow-flecked night… What follows is brief, but memorable. And red. Very red.

When we eventually see them in all their glory, the Nazi zombies are indeed a sight to remember. Standing resplendent and domineering, albeit bloodily so, in the midst of the snow covered landscape, they cut an imposing swath, particularly the ghoulishly grinning Colonel Herzog (Ørjan Gamst).



References to the likes of Evil Dead abound throughout Dead Snow, and not just because the characters discuss Raimi’s spooky gore-fest with salivating relish whilst staying in an isolated cabin in the middle of nowhere. The film’s warped and outrageously grotesque sense of humour is very knowing and whilst it blatantly nods to other genre classics it successfully negates the sort of patronising, ‘we’re-all-just-so-fucking-post-modern-aren’t-we’ humour of say, Kevin Williamson. The banter between Erlend and Chris (Jeppe Laursen and Jenny Skavlan) is particularly entertaining from an avid horror fan’s point of view. Their conversations about old slasher movies and zombie flicks don’t seem forced or contrived, after all, what fans of horror don’t discuss their favourite films with newfound kindred spirits? In light of their obsession with the likes of Friday the 13th and April Fool’s Day, its interesting to see how these characters fare when they realise they are soon to face horror on a more first-hand basis…

The savagery of the attacks on the students is at times quite astounding given the film’s tongue-in-cheekiness. The amount of blood that splashes across pristine snow is astounding. The special effects are overtly splashy and gross and will no doubt sate the appetite of even the most ravenous gore hound. All manner of implements are used to comical and shocking effect as the stand-off between the increasing numbers of Nazi zombies and ever depleting group of students mounts; including chainsaws, hammers, snowmobiles, axes and guns… Apparently 475 quarts of fake blood were used during the making of this film. That is a LOT of red stuff. Events veer even further into Evil Dead territory when an impromptu amputation occurs, whilst another particularly outlandish moment features someone dangling over the edge of a precipice, grimly hanging on to the still attached intestine of a recently gutted zombie. Splat-schtick indeed.

Dead Snow is a novel and tongue-in-decomposing-cheek zombie-fest with a wicked sense of humour boasting slick production values that belie its low budget. Wirkola makes effective use of the startlingly beautiful location of Øksfjord in the far north of Norway. Sweeping snow strewn vistas encroached upon by the blackest, densest forests in which it would be all too easy to get lost, are lusted after by Matthew Weston’s chilly cinematography.

Bloody good fun.

5 comments:

MrJeffery said...

I saw a poorly dubbed version but I still thought it was pretty good zombie flick!

James said...

Oh dear. I'm not against dubbing per se, but I prefer watching foreign films with subtitles. Dubbing can often be so distracting, especially if its badly done. Then again, depending on the film, this can sometimes be an added perk. ;)

Mykal said...

James: This one has me very interested. I find the promised visuals of pale, dead Nazis in black, frosty uniforms; marching across fields of snow, completely irresistible! What better canvas for a splatterous hour-and-a-half? Also, your review makes it sound like a very intelligent send-up. I will have to give this one a try.

Great review! -- Mykal

Carl (ILHM) said...

Dead Snow = AWESOME. I really enjoyed it, didnt think it was quite as good as some people did but thought it was one of the stronger Horror Comedies in the last year

James said...

Mykal: Yes, this film has more than its fair share of startling images - all that blood on snow! Its by no means a masterpiece, but it certainly does what you would expect a film like this to do. And does it very well, I might add. Hope you enjoy it when you check it out.

Carl: I've seen it twice now and the entertainment aspect hadn't dwindled at all. I agree with you - it's definitely one of the better comedy-horrors of late.