Release date: 9 January 2009 (Norway)
Title: Dead Snow
Title: Dead Snow
Running time: 88 mins
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen, Charlotte Frogner, Lasse Valdal and Evy Kasseth Roste
Studio: Euforia Film
So, then – eight medical students head out on their Easter vacation with a car packed full of ski equipment and enough beer to fuel their escape from everyday life. Isolated in the snowy hills the group begin to realise they came to the wrong resort, as deep in the hills lies an unthinkable evil. As far as premises go, Tommy Wirkola’s Dead Snow isn’t very original, is it?
But, wait – the group consists of four crazy Norwegian guys and four kooky Norwegian girls, each inheriting quirky character traits we’ve seen a million times before. On top of that, one of the girls has decided to meet the rest of the gang at their cabin deep in the woods a day later; her adventurous nature encouraging her to travel alone without the aid of a vehicle. I hope she makes it because that creepy old bloke who suddenly shows up at their cabin asking for coffee is seriously starting to bug me…
One scary story later about the second world war, trade convoys and a bunch of evil gold-hungry German soldiers and he’s gone, disappearing into the dead of night, praying the seven students heed his browbeating advice. They don’t. They play Twister instead. Until the discovery of an ancient box of treasures hidden away for decades amongst a couple of cans of beer gives rise to, quite literally, Nazi zombies out for revenge.
The group separates to try and escape the sinister infantry, but as they get picked off one by one, a grim discovery summons enough courage and hatred to retaliate – culminating in forty minutes of blood and carnage. Pushed to the limits, the few medical students that survive the initial gory onslaught decide enough is enough. Armed with chain-saws, pickaxes and a snowmobile they wreak revenge on the Nazi bastards with blustering precision until somebody realises that maybe it’s not just revenge the evil dead are after.
Opening with an uninspiring and needless chase across the Alps (a girl we have yet to find empathy for dispatched by someone, or something) Wirkola’s Norwegian gore-fest doesn’t start well; all rather pointless and far too predictable. This monotony continues for a good twenty minutes as we are introduced to the eight protagonists, a bunch of stereotypes (film geek, bimbo, jock, medical student scared at the sight of blood??), a creepy old dude warning them away and convenient, clunky plot devices – a lesson in what to do if caught in an avalanche, the doctor’s aversion to vital fluid, the girl that suffers from claustrophobia… it’s all there, waiting for the payoffs to begin.
Luckily, when they do, and we don’t have to wait too long, this run-of-the-mill horror becomes a completely different force altogether. Wirkola wisely chooses his victims, leaving us rooting for fodder worth caring about. Maybe he’s done his homework after all. Gone is the unconvincing chemistry between film geek and bimbo; their moment of passion scarcely credible and just very wrong. Her demise foreshadows some cracking invention, whilst film geek’s departure just brings welcome relief. His backstory would surely see him on a student exchange trip to Woodsboro, shacking up with Randy, the older brother he always wished he had. I’ve rarely hated a character more.
Now it gets good. The film swiftly moves away from saluting the Director’s film collection to deliver completely insane and wonderfully original set-pieces. Wirkola is having fun and we’re finally being taken along for the ride. Visually, you can’t get much better than blood being shed on snow, and here we have gallons of the stuff, pouring from every orifice. Better still, the kills, from which ever side you root for, are unorthodox and inspired – each one better than the last and absurdly entertaining for it.
Notable scenes during the pulsating second act include a glorious eaten alive moment from the victim’s perspective, a lesson in first aid with gaffer tape and a real cliffhanger. The best though is saved for the final half-hour; the standout moment involving an amputation or two. Wirkola does spoil it slightly by borrowing a scene from The Descent to kill one of the lesser characters, and then needlessly borrows from himself in the final third, diminishing the joy of watching someone dangling over the edge of a rock face for dear life, clutching onto the intestines of a dead foe to survive.
Yet by splitting the group up halfway through, pairing them off, he does manage to give certain characters more of an edge; Martin and Roy benefiting with great banter and the latter blessed with some excellent one-liners. It’s no surprise when the two left standing are the ones we can empathise with. It’s here you realise you’ve completely forgotten about the cliché-ridden first act; a thumping rock soundtrack complementing a final one of bloody battles until the slightly disappointing but not unsurprising, bearing in mind the first twenty minutes, resolution.
In all, more fun than Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, Dead Snow is a Norwegian-Nazi-blood-splattered-zombie-fest of a movie injected with humour, gore and brilliant set-pieces, but you’ll only be rewarded if you survive the banality of the opening twenty minutes. Altogether now... “Ein! Zwei! Die!”