Friday, 17 May 2013

Horror with Subtitles: Dead Snow (2009) Review

Stars: Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen, Charlotte Frogner
Language: Norwegian


While on holidays in the mountains, a group of eight medical students are terrorized by an army of Nazi zombies who have been hiding in the area since the end of World War 2.

Well, that’s 90 minutes of my life I’m never getting back. With a fantastic concept that could have been used as the basis for either a highly original zombie thriller or a hilarious black comedy in the vein of Shaun of the Dead, Dead Snow seemed destined to become an international cult hit. Yet, second-time writer/director Tommy Wirkola clearly lacks the experience and talent to do justice to his idea, with the result being an under-developed, amateurish waste of time.

To give Wirkola his dues, though, the beginning of Dead Snow is actually pretty good (hence, me not giving up on it like I should have). The film opens with one of the students being stalked and killed by an unseen monster and Wirkola springboards off this to create tension and suspense – which he then proceeds to throw out the window by boring his audience with scene after scene of his characters behaving like uni students on holidays (about as much fun as being the only sober person at a party full of drunks) interspersed with the odd, very brief zombie attack so that people don’t mistake the film for someone’s vacation footage.

At about the half-way mark, the students finally realize they’re in danger and we get to see a zombie clearly for the first time. This is the point where the film should have picked up, but instead, it completely loses focus and spins hopelessly out of control. None of the characters were adequately developed as individuals in the first half of the film, so it’s impossible to care whether they live or die; once they start being attacked, the characters all but stop talking to each other (and the zombies can’t speak), so things keep happening with little or no explanation; and anything that was previously set up is completely forgotten. For example, we are told several times that one of the med students is afraid of blood, but then, suddenly and with no transition scene, he’s hacking at zombies with a chainsaw. By the time the disappointing ending rolled around, I was only still watching because I’d seen so much of the film, I figured I might as well keep going to the end, but I was happy to be through with this completely pointless waste of time.

Nevertheless, clearly not everyone shares my opinion of Dead Snow. The quote on the DVD case (and we all know how reliable cover quotes are) says “zombies, Nazis, blood on snow… it doesn’t get any better.” I wonder if we saw the same movie? The cover also describes this as a black comedy. Unless your idea of humour is seeing people’s intestines (which Wirkola seems to find hilarious), it’s not. And of course, someone in Hollywood must have liked it because, following making this film, Tommy Wirkola was given the opportunity to go to Hollywood and make Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. I haven’t seen Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters yet, but based on Dead Snow, I am rapidly losing interest.

Verdict: There are many great foreign language horror movies out there. Dead Snow isn't one of them. Anything you could do with your time is better than watching this film.

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