Friday, 21 August 2009

Dead Snow - Tommy Wirkola - 2009

It may just be the self-righteous Guardian reader that exists within me, but is it not right that we call time on the hackneyed usage of Nazis as an irredeemable evil, free to be killed off as violently as possible and without remorse “cause the tenets of national socialism ‘n’ Hitler ‘n’ the final solution ‘n’ all that” makes it ok. This argument may hold little water but whilst many Nazis were of course rather unsavoury types to say the least, many were simply ordinary German soldiers conscripted to essentially defend their country, just like the Brits, just like the Russians etc. In years past with the horrors of the Second World War as still a fresh and haunting memory, the use of the Nazi’s as a voiceless evil unit of übermenschen to be wiped out was somewhat more understandable, a catharsis if you will. Therefore the sub-sub-sub genre that is the ‘Nazi-Zombie movie’ found its genesis in films such as Ken Wiederhorn’s Shock Waves (1977), a film worthwhile purely by merit of it including both Hammer hero Peter Cushing and the king of Poverty Row John Carradine slumming it for quick bucks, and Zombie Lake (1981) a film by Jean Rollin at his ‘poor man’s Jess Franco’ worst. Well I say poor man’s Franco but then the Spanish soft focus merchant made the equally poor Nazi brain muncher Oasis of the Zombies in the same year.

In this age of supposed enlightenment though, several generations removed from those who fought in the battlefields of Europe, Africa and Asia. Do contemporary German viewers of cinema really deserve the indignity of being told that their grandfathers made up a nation of purely malevolent beings just ripe for beyond the grave butchery?

Bah, whatever you fucking hippy Lee etc. Anyway, whilst such shenanigans have continued to mine a rich vein in computer games such as the Castle Wolfenstein series and the recent Call of Duty 5. It has taken Norwegian horror buff Tommy Wirkola to resurrect this dubious tradition for the cinema screen with Dead Snow.

After opening with a typical pre-credits first victim gets felled with a cheap scare scenario, the film has us following a group of young medical students on a doomed skiing vacation in the mountainous landscapes of northern Norway. As the film presents the opening half hour of exposition we are made aware that this is a post-Scream generation of disposable teens, very much hip to the tenets of slasher cinema. In the case of one of the gang, the filmmaker’s inspiration is quite literally worn on his sleeve as he parades around in a t-shirt bearing a poster for Peter Jackson’s comic grue tour de force Braindead (1992).

The film proceeds to lay on the self-aware slasher film clichés as thick as possible. With tongue wedged firmly in cheek, we witness a creepy wizened stranger arrive at their cabin to spout local histories not generally provided by lonely planet guides, as we find that the area was during WWII a shipping channel for the allies which the Nazi’s attempted to unsuccessfully blockade. We then witness members of the group foolishly split up to search for missing friends, false scares chalked up and a promiscuous pair sign up as the first victims by choosing to copulate in a freezing outhouse. After half an hour of this post-modernist pastiche though, tedium does begin to set in as the whole enterprise threatens to slip into banality.

Thankfully we soon see the proper arrival of the zombies, as the film’s uneasy balance of seriousness and comic homage gives way to pure ‘splatstick’ and thus proceeds to go batshit insane for the final 40 minutes. All previous attempts at developing character arcs and creeping dread are thrown off the mountainside in favour of Raimi/Jacksonesqe farcical carnage as creative dismemberment becomes the order of the day, and cliff side zombie fistfights, snowmobile massacres and wilderness survival techniques that would turn Ray Mears a whiter shade of pale take precedence. All set in the sort of scenery that would usually be reserved for the grandeur of a Bond ski-chase set piece rather than zombie intestine wrestling.

It also becomes evident that the usage of Nazis as the enemy here does admittedly work rather well. The eternally sharp uniforms of the Wehrmacht make for a wonderful contrast against the snowy backdrops, and for once the concept of athletic and savvy zombies works in the films favour, as they really do proceed to work with military precision, frequently outflanking and outthinking our young protagonists.

Whilst never destined to join the ranks of classic zombie cinema. Dead Snow overcomes it’s stiffly directed slavish adherence to cliché in the opening half and does enough to make you enthusiastically recall the copious claret and freeform butchery of the latter half in recommendations to friends. Worthy popcorn fodder for the gorehound, and returning to my original point, I just saw Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009) since I wrote the opening paragraph, and excitedly revelled in 2 ½ hours of the wildest Nazi bloodlust. Colour me hypocritical scumbag!


  1. Great review dude. Have to check this. Saw Basterds yesterday. What a film! Fucken loved it.

  2. Thank ye kindly Chris.

    Inglorious Basterds was a riot, because I went in anxious of it letting me down, I ended up enjoying it all the more. I think Christoph Waltz may just be my new hero.