Tommy Wirkola’s Dead Snow / Død snø is an unashamed riff on Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead formula of top-end gore, absurd situations, and a sense of humour that presumes audiences are well familiar with seventies and eighties horror classics.
A group of medical students (including one afraid of blood) trek to an isolated cabin for some fun, only to find themselves the objects of greedy Nazi zombies in search of golden jewelry and monies they failed to claim while still human back in the glory days of WWII. None of the kids can figure out why they’re being picked off until the final reel, but by then not many are left alive, leaving the odds of a safe return to civilization as pretty slim.
None of the characters are particularly memorable, either, but Wirkola and co-writer Stig Frode Henriksen give their group of human chum enough slight characteristics so they’re not completely forgettable. The students are gung ho for sex, alcohol, inner-tubing on snow (it’s cold in Norway), and although there’s no frank nudity for genre fans, the gore is extremely wet: victims ate torn apart (one cranial tear-away is particularly gooshy), the outhouse is a poopy closet of death, no one avoids a mass-splatter of blood, and the zombies are persistent buggers whose actual numbers are wrapped under placid blankets of snow until a grand reveal.
At its core, Dead Snow is a ghost story that begins when a crusty stranger visits the cabin on the group’s first night and spoils the fun with a creepy take of Nazi cruelties on locals. The plot then shifts to a mystery of who will survive, and there’s an obligatory final twist that’s in tune with the rules of the old local legend.
On the plus side, it’s a polished production that offers some genuinely inventive kills, but too many scenes are reworkings of Raimi-isms; things feel too familiar (right down to the discovery of some ‘archival’ elements under the cabin floor that seals the group’s fate), and there are few doubts as to what shocks are around the corner. The problem is furthered by the film’s opening that feels like a clone of Roar Uthaug’s Cold Prey / Fritt vilt (2006), which also begins with separate groups of girls and guys (some with medical training) making their way through the icy Norwegian canyons for some fun in the snow. The two halves eventually merge and then trek off into the snowy hills.
Uthaug’s film is a straight-faced slasher, but it is amusing to see two productions with near-identical openings move on to mimic different subgenres. Wirkola also pads the early scenes with students playing in the evil white stuff (snow), as well as a contrived story thread where one of the guys goes off on his own in search of the girlfriend that’s snatched by the Zombiemacht in the film’s teaser. Both exterior materials show off the gorgeous Norwegian mountains, but they’re also filler for the thin story and weak interior scenes that precede the zombies’ first cabin attack.
It’s all B-level fun, but it’ll be interesting to see if Wirkola can move away from recombined ideas and craft an original shocker that works on non-genre fans.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan