August 18, 2009

Dead Snow (Review)


Dead Snow
[Død Snø] (2009)

Directed by Tommy Wirkola

RATING:4 / 5 zedheads

Dead Snow is a gory thrill ride in which the number of laughs are equal to the number of scenes featuring intestinal evisceration. There's a lot of both. Dead Snow is perhaps not the most entertaining movie to watch alone, but watched with a group of like-minded zombie fans, this movie plays as pure entertainment -- a delightful blend of Nazi exploitation, splatter comedy, and zombie mayhem.

In the film, a group of medical students head up to a cabin in the snowy Norwegian mountains for their Easter vacation. Like most young adults and serious students, they just want to drink beer and goof off. Unfortunately, they picked perhaps the worst spot in Norway to unwind. The mountains are being stalked by history's biggest killjoys: the Nazis. And we aren't talking about mortal Nazis here, who by today would be feeble 90-100 year old men. No, we're talking about cult cinema's greatest invention: Nazi zombies! And they're big and strong and cruel and cunning and smart and greedy and altogether mean-ass sons of bitches. As a result, in addition to skiing, tobogganing, and snowball fights, our group of unlucky medical students have to add decapitations, evisceration and running for their lives across the blood-drenched snow to their itinerary of Easter recreations.

While it is true that Dead Snow is a film thin on plot, but it is so full of energy and ripping action and gore that it more than makes up for it. The characters somehow manage to be likable despite being cabin-in-the-woods horror stereotypes. This likability is achieved in no small part because the movie does not take itself too seriously -- in the vein of Evil Dead 2, the splatterific violence is incredibly funny and over-the-top. You'll be cringing as much as you're laughing, often at the same time. The Nazi zombies look amazing, and the film uses a number of successful practical and digital gore effects (including some especially good use of CGI blood). To describe these scenes further would spoil the real pleasure of the film, but let me say that you'll want to keep your eyes out for an incredibly gruesome "cliff-hanger" scene. Dead Snow is, hands down, the ONLY Nazi Zombie movie that I could call, fully and without reservation, entertaining.

Despite it's achievements,some elements work against Dead Snow. For example, the movie has a habit for taking far too much stylistic story inspiration from Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films, especially Evil Dead 2. On the one hand, Dead Snow is very self-aware of its influences. Characters joke about horror movies that take place in the woods, one of the characters specifically discusses whether Evil Dead 2 is a sequel or remake, and that same character later wears a Brain Dead t-shirt. The film revels in its horror movie influences. On the other hand, Wirkola tries far too hard to replicate (or blatantly copy) Raimi's camera moves and cinematic style. Characters also do things to the Nazi zombies and themselves that seem taken right out of the Evil Dead films. There's a lot in Dead Snow that is original, fresh, and unexpected, but a number of scenes pulled me out of the movie because I was thinking, "Hey, that's one of Raimi's patented moves." Dead Snow crosses the line between homage and copying a few too many times to go without calling foul.

Another flaw of the film is that there are some confusing moments that are created by bad lighting or editing. The scenes that take place in the dark were incredibly difficult to see on the big screen. When the audience is supposed to jump because one of the characters suddenly sees a figure in the dark woods, I and most of the audience couldn't see a damn thing. The only way we knew the moment was supposed to be scary was the jump-scare musical cue. This use of low lighting is employed to keep the Nazi zombies obscured until their dramatic reveal later in the film, but the low light ruins a few early scenes. Also, the editing is confusing in places. At one point, the characters decide to split up and are separately pursued by the Nazi zombies. The film jumps back and forth between these survivors, but without clear transitions or a clear pattern. The movie loses its momentum at these points and devolves into an endless cycle of "MEANWHILE" cuts. For the most part though, Wirkola deftly handles the daylight actions scenes, making the most of the wide open snowy environment to stage some thrilling human-on-Nazi zombie battles that paint the snow red with organs and limbs.

In the end, I had a blast watching Dead Snow. I saw it on August 16th for its Toronto Premiere at the Toronto After Dark film festival at the Bloor Cinema. Originally, Dead Snow was going to be released on DVD earlier this summer, but the distributors pushed it back so that Toronto After Dark could have the screening. This was obviously a smart move: the Bloor Cinema was completely sold out! There wasn't an empty seat in the house, and the audience ate this movie up! I bet there's a whole new section of fans hungry for this DVD now. The crowd's energy was incredibly high, and I was along for the ride. Were I to watch Dead Snow alone on DVD, I don't know if I would enjoy it as much as I did in the theatre.

Despite its flaws, I would highly recommend Dead Snow if you love over-the-top gore handled with a bloody sense of humour. Dead Snow may not be the best movie to watch alone, but it is definitely a movie to watch with friends and other like-minded fiends.