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'Dead Snow' Movie Review

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

By

'Dead Snow' movie poster.
© IFC
Scandinavian horror received a big boost in 2008 with the international success of the Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In, a somber, dramatic coming-of-age tale that won critical acclaim and awards worldwide. Dead Snow, meanwhile, has a man climb up a cliff on the intestines of a Nazi zombie. To say that this Norwegian zombie flick falls on the opposite end of the spectrum from Let the Right One In is an understatement, but Dead Snow is no less engaging, and while it won't receive the prestigious accolades that Let the Right One In got, it should easily go down as one of the top horror movies of 2009.

The Plot

A group of seven 20-something friends drives to a remote cabin for a holiday getaway, with only a snowmobile to help them trek miles from the road into the snowy wilderness. (Movie geek Erlend wonders aloud how many horror movies begin with people going to a remote location with no cell phone reception.)

After a bit of outdoor revelry, they settle in for the night, only to be interrupted by the quintessential "horror movie old man" who tells them the tale of German soldiers who ruled the area with an iron fist during World War II and were killed when the townsfolk staged an uprising. He warns the partygoers that there's still an evil presence nearby; if the movie were in English, he'd almost certainly have used the phrase "these parts."

Of course, the kids dismiss the old man's warning, but when folks start to disappear, they become concerned. After Vegard (Lasse Valdal) takes the snowmobile to search for his girlfriend Sara, the others discover first-hand what evil is causing trouble in those parts: hordes of Nazi zombies. As they defend the cabin, Vegard encounters more undead soliders rising out of the frozen tundra, led by toothy zombie commander Colonel Herzog (Ørjan Gamst). Soon enough, everyone is on the run, frantically trying to make it back to their vehicles in order to escape a hellish fate.

The End Product

Jenny Skavlan as Chris in 'Dead Snow'.

Jenny Skavlan in 'Dead Snow'.

© IFC

You have to love any horror movie that opens with Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King"; it sets a tone of self-conscious, sinister playfulness that, sadly, few films can live up to. Dead Snow, however, is more than up to the challenge, delivering both horror and humor in as well-balanced a formula as we've seen since Shaun of the Dead.

The first half of Dead Snow, admittedly, is nothing special. We don't even see the zombies until more than 40 minutes in, their nighttime sneak attacks more akin to a slasher villains. But once they emerge for all to see, the movie zooms into full throttle and never lets up through 40-plus minutes of gore, thrills and belly laughs, ranking the film up there with classic "zom coms" like Shaun, Dead Alive and Return of the Living Dead.

Dead Snow doesn't overdo the comedy, gently meting it out so that when it strikes, the impact is felt -- as when one man says to a bitten friend who's worried that he'll turn into a zombie, "Isn't your grandfather half Jewish? You don't think they would recruit someone half Jewish?" There's great comic timing in the writing and the performances that helps break the tension of the bloody suspense.

Not that you ever take the action all that seriously, of course. The image of zombies clad head to toe in Nazi gear amidst a snowy backdrop is a striking one, but hardly one that instills fear. The gory but unscary action takes place during the day (thankfully, since the night scenes are too dimly lit) with well-planned set pieces that owe as much to action/adventure movies as horror. Even the zombies aren't your horror-standard shuffling gut-munchers; they're strong, fast and smart, and they punch, use weapons and climb friggin' trees. Sorry, traditionalists.

Any grumbling about the zombies' speed or the fact that they don't have to be killed with head shots should quiet down as zombie fans get their fill of decapitations, bludgeonings, eviscerations and all manner of gory mayhem in the film -- featuring deaths by axe, chainsaw, mallet, machine gun, bomb and snow mobile. The filmmakers don't get bogged down in explanations or rules (no scenes of bitten people transforming into zombies and thus no tedious scenes of loved ones hesitating to kill their newly undead pal), instead focusing on the action. They keep the pace moving by splitting up the five surviors and letting them fight their own battles, so we jump from fight scene to fight scene in a delicious orgy of cinematic carnage.

Örjan Gamst as Colonel Herzog in 'Dead Snow'.

Örjan Gamst as Colonel Herzog in 'Dead Snow'.

© IFC

Tommy Wirkola, whose previous film was the sophomoric Kill Bill parody Kill Buljo, furthers his film odes in Dead Snow, with nods to Shaun of the Dead, Evil Dead 2, Dead Alive and even Raiders of the Lost Ark. His love for genre fare shines through in his playful treatment of standard horror elements (see the arm amputation scene or the first-person POV shot of a zombie disembowelment), making for one of the most fun horror experiences in recent memory.

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