Fully Undead 900 word Version:
This is an early eighties American movie … it just happens to have been made in Norway in the late noughties. It begins, as Evil Dead (1981) does, with a group of students in a car heading out into the woods for a weekend getaway in an isolated cabin. We even have a few aerial shots of them driving along the side of a snow-bound lake in the mountains, which will put us immediately in mind of The Shining (1980).
Of course, these references, and the others that pepper the film, are quite deliberate. As the students wade through the snow along the repeatedly-mentioned “45 minute hike” from the road to the cabin, one of their number, a film-geek named Erlend, asks: “Hang on … How many films start like this?” Lots. About as many as have the obligatory post-modern film-geek character, I’d say.
Unlike your typical Grindhouse schlock-fest, this film features some stunning snowscape photography by the not-remotely-Nordic-sounding Matthew Weston. While Sweden’s Let The Right One (2008) and, to a lesser extent, America’s 30 Days of Night (2007) showed us how dark and claustrophobic snow could be, this film immediately opens up the aperture to let all that reflected sunlight come flooding in. It has the audacity to allow its horror to take place in the broadest imaginable daylight which, of course, means that you can see the horror coming from further away … the downside being: It can see you, too. You can run, but you certainly can’t hide.
During their first night in the cabin, the traditional Mysterious Stranger knocks on the door, to warn the unwary of the horrors they can expect to encounter. In a mesmerising monologue, the unnamed stranger tells the students about the Eisatz, the platoon of Germans who were stationed there during the war and who were “evil, hellish bastards” led by the devilish Colonel Herzog. He finishes with the wonderfully quotable warning “People tread lightly up here” then takes his leave to, rather foolishly, pitch his tent somewhere in the middle of the killing snowfields.
Soon after he leaves, the students find a box of Nazi gold under the cabin floorboards (“Fortune and glory, kid” mutters the film geek … if you don’t know why, I won’t bore you with the reason) which discovery brings the long-dormant local undead rising from their resting places in the snow to retrieve it.
Død Snø wears its heart (and its intestines) so openly on its sleeve that Erlend has on a Braindead t-shirt when he is torn-apart, in a good-old-fashioned latex prosthetic special-effect with lashings of livid red 80s-style blood. Vegard, the nominal leader of the gang, gets to act like Bruce Campbell engaging in a fist-fight with the first zombie. Martin, the specky nerd character, has to chainsaw his own arm off. This is the film that My Name is Bruce wishes it was!
If you haven’t already clicked, it’ll be about here that you realise you’re actually watching a comedy. One which very quickly escalates to almost undreamed-of heights of gory slap-stick. The silliest and sickest effects take place in bright, unforgiving daylight, with gouts of bright blood spraying liberally against the pristine white background, with the considerable short-comings of the effects unashamedly there for all to see but, of course, quality counts for nothing: When a character is hanging off a cliff, clinging to a rope made of writhing zombie entrails, you don’t really worry too much about how realistic they look.
For all its fearless exuberance, the film has some real problems. You are left to wonder where, exactly, have the Nazis been hiding for the last sixty years and may notice that, since they’re working together and taking orders from their commander, they can’t really be zombies! Even the central conceit, the Nazi zombie idea, has been done before in Shock Waves (1977) and, more recently, Outpost (2008), but that’s okay because there is no attempt to be original here … this film is a celebration of schlock, not an attempt to rehabilitate it.
So, you are encouraged to look upon this film as disposable, forgettable slap-stick, but then the wonderfully sophisticated visuals, sharp editing and excellent use of music are all quite at odds with the lampooning of the one-dimensional characters and loopy half-written plot. I think, with a bit more experience and the support of the more highly-developed American studios (who have apparently already drawn him into their web) director Wirkola will hopefully turn into an inspired and enterprising new talent. He certainly has the connections to make it big!
Sara, the girl who owns the cabin and who was, unbeknownst to her friends, killed in the film’s pre-title sequence, is played by Ane Dahl Torp, a veritable Norwegian mega-star; while The Mysterious Stranger is played by Bjørn Sundquist, Norway’s favourite serious actor. He clearly relishes his time slumming it in a genre movie and presumably both he and Torp supported this project (and worked at considerably below their usual pay scale, no doubt) because Wirkola persuaded them that this was an opportunity to push Norwegian cinema onto the world stage. Which is exactly what Død Snø has done. Apparently it received only lukewarm reviews in the Norwegian press upon its release but then it wasn’t made for Norwegian critics … it was made for people who love The Evil Dead … it was made for you!
Director: Tommy Wirkola.
Writers: Stig Frode Henriksen & Tommy Wirkola.
Cast: Charlotte Frogner, Ørjan Garnst, Stig Frode Henriksen, Bjorn Sundquist, Ane Dahl Torp.
Dur: 91 mins