Dead Snow (Tommy Wirkola, 2009)

In the fourth of 12 posts, film critic Neil Fulwood flies us across the globe to Norway in search of the ultimate zombie movie.

Welcome to Norway, home to the dramatic scenery of the fjords, some well-dodgy sculptures in Frogner Park, and the legendary wartime reputation of the Norwegian Resistance. Strange for an organisation who undertook daring and heroic missions against staggering odds that cinema hasn’t made more of their struggle against the Third Reich. A complete cinematic history of the Norwegian Resistance would make for a pretty thin pamphlet with most of its content given over to Sunday afternoon favourite The Heroes of Telemark and well-received but little shown drama Max Manus. There might be a footnote in reference to Dead Snow.

Dead Snow isn’t a resistance film per se but it does provide a contemporary framework within which to investigate the still-palpable violence of the recent past, instigating this dialogue with the viewer by means of re-introducing the menace of National Socialism into the Norwegian landscape. Actually, that’s just so much Sight & Sound style verbiage. Dead Snow is basically a Nazi zombie movie.

As a subgenre, the Nazi zombie film doesn’t boast many entries and for every decent example (Ken Wiederhorn’s Shock Waves) there’s a truly awful piece of work such as Jean Rollin’s Zombie Lake, whose production values were so low it might have been retitled Swimming Pool of the Dead. It has to be admitted that director Tommy Wirkola doesn’t do much with the concept in Dead Snow either, apart from wallowing in the sheer subversiveness of making a Norwegian film whose antagonists are revivified Nazis and whose protagonists are uniformly hapless.

Ah, yes, our protagonists: standard issue interchangeable teenagers. For the first half hour, Dead Snow is little more than Cabin Fever with subtitles and cold weather. Then, in a scene reminiscent of the prologue to John Carpenter’s The Fog, an old-timer tells them the story of something horrific that happened in that very location way back when. In short order, and reinforcing the Carpenter comparison, they uncover some hidden treasure connected with the aforementioned atrocity. From this point, cinematic homages pile up as fast as bodies. Wirkola ticks off Night of the Living Dead (survivors barricade themselves in an isolated property), Shaun of the Dead (the contents of a shed become makeshift weapons), Dog Soldiers (a wounded man tries to stuff his own intestines back in), Evil Dead 2 (an improvised amputation is conducted with a chainsaw and no anaesthetic), Carrie (grasping hands reach out of a clump of broken earth) and Where Eagles Dare (an ice-pick gets used improperly during a life-or-death struggle on a vertiginous ledge).

Dead Snow boasts entire swathes of crumbly-skinned Nazis but not a single original idea. Still, it’s entertaining, unapologetically gory (a scene in which a Norwegian student with a chainsaw brings the pain to half a dozen Nazi zombies plays out as viscerally and cathartically as you’d imagine), and it’s frequently amusing in the kind of unsophisticated way that makes your average Judd Apatow comedy look like something by Noel Coward. The world is still waiting for both the definitive Norwegian Resistance epic and the definitive Nazi zombie exploitation flick. In the meantime, Dead Snow ticks enough of the boxes.

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One thought on “Dead Snow (Tommy Wirkola, 2009)

  1. Pingback: Doomsday (Neil Marshall, 2008) | Dawn of the Unread

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