Moving on from Germany and Belgium, where we looked at The Counterfeiters and North Sea, Texas respectively – it’s further north we move, on to Scandinavia. There really has been a renaissance in popular media here over the last five years, most notably in the form of The Millennium Trilogy books and film adaptations, Jo Nesbø novels and television’s Borgen and The Killing.
Thinking specifically of film, there are also the likes of Let the Right One In and A Royal Affair, marked as impressive releases in recent times. But before we turn to Sweden, Denmark and Finland in the coming weeks and months, it’s to Norway that we turn for film #3 in the series. Nesbø’s Headhunters (featuring now-Game of Thrones sensation Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, AKA Jaime Lannister) was the over-the-top thriller success of last year, and the year before Norway treated us to the delightful mockumentary Trollhunter.
Both of the above have more than a hint of comedy about them, and perhaps this stems from this week’s film – first released in 2009 (a year before Trollhunter and two before Headhunters) – the Nazi-Zombie comedy-horror Dead Snow. We’ve already looked at one film so far in this simulated journey involving Nazis, though it’s a dead cert of an assertion to state that Dead Snow is a far cry from The Counterfeiters in style, tone and its treatment of them. What it appears to resemble a lot more is Iron Sky, the comedic-horror from Finland last year, which we’ll hopefully look at in comparison in a few weeks’ time.
Dead Snow begins with your typical-ish group of medical student travellers – though looking a bit older than most movie mobs – heading off to a cabin in the woods snowy mountains. It doesn’t shy away from familiar film references but instead embraces them, with one of the ensemble eager to show off his geeky knowledge with talk of The Evil Dead and Friday the 13th. Invoking such classics is a risky business though, with the likelihood being that these recollections will simply highlight the gap between Dead Snow and its peers.
Unfortunately these fears have some weight to them. The opening scene, whilst not fantastic, sets up the expected mood very well. The ‘In The Hall of the Mountain King’ overture plays whilst somebody is hunted to the sound of its melody in the woods; it’s a nice, neat setup and displays the kind of playful (but potentially violent) comedy that we’d tune in hoping for, considering the selling point of Nazi-Zombies. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t kick on from here in the way that one might expect considering the decent entrance it makes.
As it happens, it too – like last week’s North Sea, Texas – struggles a little in negotiating its weight between the first and second halves of the film. Most films that are problematic either become so because of one act in particular or are generally riddled with troubles throughout, but this is the second week in a row that we’ve seen what feels like a down-the-middle split in terms of tone. Fortunately it’s not nearly as jarring as last week’s difficulty, but Dead Snow only seems to get into the swing of things properly in the last 40 minutes or so with too much preamble and not enough of the main event.
Whilst the build-up is necessary, the length of it most certainly is not. It gives us the usual party antics of snow games, drunken sexual frolics and accidentally freaking out the claustrophobic one of the group, before Mr. Exposition turns up. This guy only exists in order to provide the voice of the archetypal frightening-weirdo who explains the danger to the group… even though the audience – from the synopsis, poster and everything else – already knows what’s to come. He then leaves apropos of nothing (just as he arrived) and is immediately savagely killed. Thank goodness!
The writing and plot is certainly the weakness of the film and it’s this first half that exhibits these flaws, whereas the second enters the territory of silliness and frivolity that we were promised from the off. This is where the film starts to really work. Scenes include a Shaun of the Dead-esque pummelling of zombies into the ground whilst incomprehensible Scandi-pop music plays in the background, one of the girls punching a bird to death whilst hidden up a tree, and a guy headbutting a Nazi-Zombie to his demise despite dangling from a rope. Who’s arguing with any of that?
The tone actually becomes lighter once General Herzog (no relation to director Werner as far as we know) and his followers enter the fray, and this isn’t limited to merely the Nazi-Zombie scenes either. It extends to the action and dialogue – now much funnier – between the medical student characters themselves. This film isn’t an out-and-out cabin-in-the-woods film, despite its nods to the classics of the genre, hence its justified decision to be lively and comedic instead. It could simply do with more of this.
Dead Snow, notwithstanding the masses of corn syrup, is a low-budget effort from a novice director who manages to get it to work to a pretty impressive degree considering the constraints. It’s most certainly a light-hearted film aimed at groups over individuals and revels in its moments of excess (though the worst thing in it is the idea of having sex with somebody who is about to use the toilet). It’s no Scream, The Cabin in the Woods or The Evil Dead – but then what is? Neither is it another Trollhunter from Norway unfortunately, but perhaps its recently green-lit sequel will address these errors and allow it to hit the heights that it’s truly capable of.