Dead Snow (2009)
“Ein! Zwei! Die!”
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Cast: Jeppe Beck Laursen, Charlotte Frogner, Jenny Skavlan
Synopsis: A ski vacation turns horrific for a group of medical students, as they find themselves confronted by an unimaginable menace: Nazi zombies.
I’m not sure whether the Nazi zombies in Tommy Wirkola’s horror-comedy Dead Snow, are supposed to be zombies or not. With their grey, decaying faces and ferocious appetite for tearing their victims apart, they certainly look and behave like zombies, but these guys don’t require a shot to the head to be brought down for good, and these zombies are breathing — Wirkola makes no attempt to disguise their breath on the sub-zero air. The relative ease with which the hapless human heroes of the tale can exterminate these quasi-zombies, at least means that they can take on legions of them at a time and still have a chance of surviving intact.
The protagonists here are the usual assortment of young adults. The first one we meet is Sara (Ane Dahl Torp), who is being chased across a snowy hillside by half-glimpsed predators. With Sara summarily despatched we then meet Sara’s mates, three girls and four boys, all of whom are medical students, and all of whom are driving to a remote cabin (of course) for an Easter break of skiing, booze and sex. The four boys are in one car, the three girls in another, and they meet up at a roadside parking space which is the nearest point to the cabin that vehicles can reach. Yes, this cabin is really remote. So remote, in fact, that most people would be put off by the distance, but medical students are clearly made of sterner stuff than your average youth. I’m tempted to say that they’ve also never watched any movies in which youths find themselves at the mercy of some evil force while cut off from civilisation, but on the trek to the cabin, one of the group wonders aloud how many horror movies have featured a group of kids journeying to a remote location out of reach of mobile signals.
Once they reach the cabin everything is fine at first, although Vegard (Lasse Valdal) is a little concerned that his girlfriend Sara, who is skiing across country to meet them, hasn’t arrived yet. The group occupy their time drinking pilsner and telling stupid jokes until one of the girls goes to the loo — which is in a shed a few yards from the cabin — and thinks she sees some shadowy character lurking in the trees that border the cabin. It turns out that the shadow belongs to a vaguely menacing traveller (Bjorn Sundquist) who invites himself in for coffee so that he can fill us and his hosts in on the history of the area. It seems that during WWII the occupying Nazis subjected the local population to harsh and brutal treatment and then, in the dying days of the war, began looting their homes and killing anyone who attempted to resist. However, the locals managed to organise themselves and fought back, killing many of their persecutors and chasing off the rest, who head for the hills led by their sadistic commanding officer Herzog (Orjan Gamst). It was assumed that these surviving soldiers froze to death in the mountains, but ever since the incident the region has had a dark reputation.
After insulting his hosts’ coffee-making skills, the traveller makes his excuses and leaves. Unfortunately, he fails to heed his own warnings and pitches his tent in the region rumoured to be the heart of all those evil stories. Of course, he soon comes to regret his decision when he hears noises outside. Meanwhile, the kids laugh off his warning, even though they’ve just passed through the ‘warning of bad things to come by a vaguely menacing stranger’ horror genre trope, which should at least have rung a few warning bells in the otherwise empty head of that film buff who made the knowing horror movie references on the way up. But instead of entertaining any unsettling thoughts about just how rigidly this trip is adhering to those aforementioned tropes, he instead decides to separate from his friends and trudge outside in the darkness to have a dump in the shed. Can you guess what happens to him while he’s there? That’s right, one of those hot nubile chicks follows him out and climbs on his lap while his tracksuit bottoms are still around his ankles. Well, all right, maybe you didn’t see that coming, especially as this guy’s an overweight slob who just might have been intended to be the comic relief guy. And he’s been eating pizza and quaffing beer immediately prior to visiting the shed which surely can’t make for the creation of an atmosphere conducive to a moment of romance but, hey, some wholesome-looking girls are pretty nasty deep down.
Needless to say, this couple’s, erm, coupling signals the start of the horror, and while the fat guy makes it safely back to the cabin (no basking in the afterglow for him), the poor girl finds herself suffering the kind of fate nobody should have to endure, but which we all suspected was going to happen to someone the first time we saw that outside loo. Once she meets her fate, the onslaught on the others in the cabin begins in earnest. In a scene reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead, Fat Boy is grabbed through one of the cabin’s windows and has his head split in two while others frantically try to defend the cabin by placing tables against the windows and generally shouting a lot. Somehow, having survived that first attack, the surviving four members of the group — Vegard having left earlier to see if he could track down his girlfriend — decide to split into two parties; the boys will create a diversion to distract the Nazi zombies while the two girls will head for the car and fetch help. Needless to say, things don’t quite go according to plan.
Dead Snow can’t seem to make up its mind whether it’s a post-ironic spoof of the genre, an affectionate homage to its more memorable moments and recognisable conventions, or a straightforward horror-comedy, and by failing to make up its mind its fails to realise its full potential. Foreign comedy is notoriously difficult to translate, and Dead Snow fails to find a way around that problem, meaning that much of the verbal humour falls flat. There are a couple of funny sight gags, but not enough to satisfy. The homages aren’t confined purely to the horror genre — there are references to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Die Hard — although the clearest influence is probably Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies (yet again, a major character performs a little self-amputation). While Dead Snow by no means bears comparison to that particular franchise, it’s certainly superior to most of the trashy horror movies that are released these days, and at least succeeds in moving the genre out of its customary claustrophobic confines and transferring it to the clean, snowy hillsides of Norway.