Sometimes a movie can skirt by on the strength of its premise alone, especially for the nerd crowd. There are just some things we love that if a movie features them we’ll go see it immediately. Generally those things are boobs, monkeys, Jedi, boobs, pirates, ninjas, boobs, Boba Fett, robots, Nazis, zombies, Bruce Campbell, and boobs.
Dead Snow only capitalizes on two items from that list, namely Nazis and zombies, and it coasts on that capital for just a bit too long. The basic story is that a bunch of medical students take a weekend trip to a cabin in Finnmark. There amidst the drinking and snow-related frivolity, they run into a battalion of undead Nazis, and bloodshed ensues.
It’s a fun concept, and I was looking forward to watching this because of all of its campy comedic promise, but it really wasn’t as much fun as I had hoped: the buildup was too long, the characters were either forgettable or annoying, and the moments when the film broke out and really started going into the goofy, gory craziness I had hoped for never went far enough.
Let me break that down a bit more.
Now I’ve come to accept that 99% of the horror movies I’m going to watch will be populated by idiotic, disgusting, and generally unlikeable people. I think part of this is due to the postmodern wave of horror we saw in the ’80s and ’90s when we were meant to root for the monster instead of the victims. While I can understand how this can be fun, I tire of it pretty quickly. I also think that today’s filmmakers just don’t know how to write likable characters, and that’s certainly the case with this movie. I watched it last night and I couldn’t tell you the names of any of the characters, and I connected so little with them that I don’t even care to take the time to look them up in IMDB. I suppose they were just intended to be meat for the slaughter, but I find if I can’t connect with some character on any level then I have a hard time liking a movie. I certainly can’t connect with the Nazis, after all, zombified or not.
That’s probably why the buildup was so excruciatingly long for me. After the first five minutes I had figured out who I liked and disliked—or in this case who I was indifferent to and who I pined to become a zombie sandwich—so watching fifty someodd minutes of them playing around in the snow, drinking, and being general douchebags to each other was boring. The zombie Nazis couldn’t get there fast enough.
Yet even when they arrived I had a hard time getting into the action. It could be that I’m just played out on zombies, but these weren’t too terribly scary, despite the fact that these were fast, intelligent zombies. Part of it could be that I spent a little too much time trying to figure out the rules to these zombies. They were clearly undead, unlike the crazy infected zombies in 28 Days Later, but they moved more like them than the George Romero variety. The movie was also rather vague on how they became zombies. My guess is that they suffered under some kind of curse, but I don’t have enough evidence to back that up.
I know some of you out there are thinking, “Josh, it’s a Nazi zombie movie, quit thinking about it and just enjoy the ride.” Typically I’d agree with you, but this time I was thinking because I couldn’t enjoy the ride. Somebody over at Entertainment Weekly said that this was “One of the 25 best zombie movies of all time” but I think that’s based on the concept—they’re Nazis and zombies!—not on the movie itself. I can turn off my mind when I’m suitably entertained, but needless to say, I wasn’t in this case.
There were a few moments when that happened, such as when one guy put what looked to be a BAR M1918 machine gun on his snowmobile and goes to town on some anti-Semitic zombies, or when he and his friends start coming up with new and more inventive ways to kill said zombies. Those moments are goretastic, but it’s like the movie can’t keep up the pace. And to make matters worse, two of the best scenes are stolen outright from Evil Dead 2: when the two guys left behind at the cabin make it over to the workshed and arm themselves with any and everything they can find, including a chainsaw, and later when the guy who faints at the sight of blood gets bitten and figures he has to cut off his arm to keep the zombie infection from spreading. Those scenes were nowhere near as good as the ones they rip off, but they could have worked had the filmmakers turned the dials to eleven, so to speak. For example, right after the guy cuts off his arm, a Nazi zombie bursts out of the snow at his feet and bites right into his crotch. I thought for sure the guy would end up amputating that part and then end up getting bit someplace else and having to amputate that part off, and so on and so on. That level of ridiculousness would have made that much more fun and taken it from rip off country to the sweet land of parody.
The only place where they don’t skimp is on the gore. This movie scores a solid 86 on the Vomit Meter (forgive me, Joe Bob) and it earned every point. The filmmakers must have bought intestines by the bulk because the gut-rope was strung all over that mountain. Again, going back to Sam Raimi, the level of blood and guts is so ridiculously over the top that it should have been hilarious, but almost never reached the level needed to make it funny, and the few times the movie did it never held it for long enough.
I’m sure that Dead Snow will become the cult classic the Blu-ray case claims it will be, but I can’t really say that it deserves it. Sure, there are some fun moments, but overall it tries to reach the heights set by other, better, B Horror movies, but just isn’t able to capture the spirit that made them so great. That’s too bad, because, really, the concept is strong (at least for the crowd the movie’s aiming for) and full of fun possibilities, but it wasn’t strong enough to make it more than a mediocre attempt at B-movie history.
The movie is presented in Widescreen with the audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 for the Norwegian language track and 2.0 for the English. Subtitles in English and Spanish are provided for the hearing impaired and those that want to watch the movie in its original Norwegian. Overall, the movie looks and sounds as well as can be expected given its budget, but I have to say that considering the budget and the quality of not only the audio and video, but of the special effects, it seems an odd choice to release this on Blu-ray given that the high definition treatment will only highlight those flaws.
The extras are all pretty boring here, so I’m just going to write about them as a whole. The behind the scenes features really don’t add anything to the movie and mostly consist of people milling around on set and saying vague, stupid things to the camera. Like most, they treat these extras as video diaries, but fail to cut out the boring bits. As for the effects features, I’ve found that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Unless you’re just a huge fan of this movie or are super-interested in the minutiae of the filmmaking process I’d skip these.
Behind Dead Snow (18:39) Special Make-Up Effects for Dead Snow (6:30) Original Theatrical Trailer (2:36) Teaser Trailer (00:53) Madness in the North! (48:53) Madness in the West! (17:50) Outtakes (2:03) VFX (3:19) Burning the Cabin (1:01) The Sounds of Dead Snow (5:42)
I always find it a bit odd when I don’t agree with the majority (as you can imagine, that happens quite a bit). I can’t help but wonder what others are seeing that I’m missing, and that certainly is the case with Dead Snow. This was, after all, an official selection at Sundance, and reviewers like Peter Travers seem to really like it. I’m not saying that they’re wrong and I’m right, or vice versa, I’m just curious as to what I’m missing. At any rate, it must have been something good, because I just don’t see what all the fuss is about. Not recommended.
MPI presents Dead Snow. Directed by: Tommy Wirkola. Starring: Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen, Charlotte Frogner, Lasse Valdal, Evy Kasseth Røsten, Jeppe Laursen, Jenny Skavlan, and Ane Dahl Torp. Written by: Stig Frode Henriksen and Tommy Wirkola. Running time: 92 minutes. Rating: NR. Released on DVD: February 23, 2010. Available at Amazon.com