Monday, May 23, 2016

Film Review: Dead Snow

Some time ago, Ski Magazine was promoting a foreign language film about a group of twenty-somethings that go on a ski trip to a remote cabin in the mountains of Norway. This same film made a bit of a splash as an official selection a few years ago at the Sundance Film Festival... So I thought I would check it out.

Dead Snow is not about skiers or climbers, but it does take place in the mountains and there are avalanches and cornice collapses; so it does apply loosely to the focus of this blog. And of course, I use the term loosely, loosely...

Three young couples, all medical students, decide to take a trip into the mountains for Spring Break. The film starts like most horror movies start. There's a fair bit of sexual energy, lots of electric guitars playing in the background, and some adrenaline sports, in the form of snowmobiling. What the group of students don't know at the start of their trip is that the area they are playing in is zombies...and not just any zombies, but Nazi zombies...

Zombie movies have been popular now since they re-emerged on the film scene with Danny Boyle's fantastic horror morality play 28 Days Later in 2002. In the last fourteen years, this sub-genre of horror has constantly been re-explored by filmmakers looking for new angles. Some zombie movies like Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Zombieland (2009) were experiments in action/comedy. Others like Fido (2006) and Planet Terror (2007) were experiments in campy horror comedy. But of course the vast majority of the films have been more deeply seated in the action/horror camp like the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004), the Resident Evil series (2002-2007) and The Walking Dead (2010-present) television show.

Dead Snow is harder to categorize. It's about Nazi zombies. The subject matter alone leads one to believe that this is going to be a very campy movie, and it is. There is some great situational comedy in the film, and of course there are battles with chain saws and scythes that are bloody, but also kind of funny. However, at its heart there is no doubt, this is a blood and guts horror film. Indeed, there is one gruesome scene where a zombie puts his fingers into a young man's eyes and then tears his skull in half, spilling his brains on the floor. And even worse, there is a sex scene in an outhouse, on an outhouse toilet, which is really pretty gross too...

The biggest problem with the film is that it never really settles into a tone. While it is a gruesome horror movie, it wants to play up the campiness of the situation. The film probably would have been much better if it let go of the categorization of horror and either played more into the silliness of the concept or played up the zombie metaphor in relation to Nazism.

Arguably, the re-emergence of zombie movies has more to do with opinion news and opinion blogs (on both the left and the right) than it has to do with the horror genre. The idea is that people become slaves to a certain viewpoint and that they are no longer able to see the other side. Metaphorically, zombie movies are about mindless people who just do what they're told or get caught up in propaganda to the point where they become dangerous. The rise of Nazism is a great subject for a metaphorical zombie movie and when I saw the trailer for this film, I sincerely hoped that the piece might be a more high-brow version of this zombie metaphor... I can assure you that it is not...

I was engaged by the film. I was definitely grossed out a few times. And there were a few, "aw, come-on" moments. That said, I've never seen a movie about Nazi zombies before, and in a genre that has been explored so deeply in the last decade, it was refreshing to see something completely different.

--Jason D. Martin

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