Friday, March 19, 2010
Dead Snow (2009) Chainsaws, Nazi Zombies, and Outhouse Sex
Years ago, and I mean MANY years ago, I was an exchange student to Sweden. It was easily one of the greatest years of my life, and a great memory of how things were before the undead rose. There were definitely no Nazi zombies on any of the ski trips my host family took me on and I don't remember any machine gun snowmobiles. One thing I can tell you: northern Scandinavia during winter is absolutely gorgeous.
Dead Snow (aka Død Snø) is a fun little Norwegian movie directed by Tommy Wirkola, and written by Wirkola and Stig Frode Henriksen. There was considerable hype leading up to my viewing of it, and while it didn't replace Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland as my favorite zombie comedies, it was still a joyful, bloody little romp through the snow-covered mountains of Norway.
When the film opens, a young woman run in pure panic through the dark Norwegian wilderness, pursued by something we can't quite see. She tumbles down a hill, breaking her leg and ending up trapped in a thicket. Whatever was chasing her catches up and engaging in a growling feast as the main title appears on the screen.
From there, we meet a couple groups of cheeky medical students. The men: catalog model-esque Vegard, studious Martin, dirty-minded Roy, and nerdy Erland. They're on their way to Vegard's girlfriend Sara's cabin for a little ski trip full of snow and a high potential of bumping uglies. In the other car are three of the four women: sensible Hanna, sexy-nerdy Chris, and quiet Billie Piper-lookalike Liv. The fourth is Sara, who we later learn is legging it through the wilderness to get there. Uh-oh. That means the woman in the beginning...? Yep. That was Sara.
The vacation kicks off just fine, as they typically do in these movies. Vegard brought his prized snowmobile and after setting out ahead of the others to warm up the cabin, gives everyone inner tube rides. No, that's not a euphemism. Everyone wonders where Sara is, but the party rages on into the night. There are couples, as Martin and Hanna have paired off and Chris periodically flirts with Erland, much to his surprise. A knock on the door might mean Sara's joined the party, but alas, no. It's a strange hiker who somehow - don't ask me - found the cabin and wants nothing more than a cup of coffee and to share a terrifying story of a cruel Nazi officer named Herzog. Seems Herzog held the local town - a port for the Nazi navy - in his iron fist, robbing and slaughtering townsfolk until they rose up against him. He was forced to head into the hills, where he and his men were never found. After his rousing story, he's off to continue his hike. Not long after he sets up camp, some fast-moving shapes slit his throat and attack him in his tent.
The next day, Vegard decides to take the snowmobile to look for Sara. He instructs the others to go get help if he isn't back by the following day, then takes off into the mountains. The others, though originally spooked by the hiker's story, continue the party after Vegard leaves. While groping for more beer, Erland finds a box full of gold trinkets and German medals. The medical students are overwhelmed with joy and some proclaim to do what I'd do: pay off their student loans. Vegard, meanwhile, not only finds what's left of the old hiker, but falls into a snow-covered cave.
After night falls, things start getting darker and I'm not talking about the sky. It's all fun and games at first. Erland shuffles out to the outhouse to have a bit of a dump, and we all know outhouses in horror films are bad news. In one of the most outrageous scenes in the movie, Chris finally makes her move on Erland. In the outhouse...AFTER he "releases the hounds." And to add to the gross-out factor, she sucks on his fingers. I thought employees were supposed to wash after using the restroom.
Well, they have their fun and Erland returns to the party so Chris can use the facilities. You know someone's going into the toilet when a horror film includes an outhouse, and sure enough, in goes Chris. Sadly, she'll never get to profess her continuing feelings for Erland. Instead, she meets Herzog's men and they didn't bring flowers or even a six-pack of Carlsberg.
The zombies attack the cabin, forcing the students to barricade the place. Erland, the resident horror movie nerd, proclaims them zombies and tells everyone not to let them bite. Not long after that, Erland is ripped apart by several zombies in one of the wackiest on-screen deaths in a while. Basically, they pull his skull apart until his brain plops neatly on the floor. Insanity, I tell you. Erland's body seems to be enough for the Nazi invaders at this point, so the other four are able to last the night.
Vegard, as it turns out, isn't dead. He wakes up and explores the cave, finding Nazi flags and helmets, not to mention Sara's severed head. He fights off a couple of the zombies, even using one's intestines to keep from falling into a gorge. This doesn't, however, prevent him from being bitten badly on the neck. After stitching himself up - medical student, after all - Vegard scores a sweet machine gun from the bunker and attaches it to his snowmobile.
Back in the cabin, the four survivors decide to split up. The men set out to distract the zombies while the girls make a break for the cars. Hanna and Liv run, then split up to escape throngs of zombies. Liv is taken down and disemboweled, and in a very cool perspective shot, we see it through her eyes. She smartly sets off a hand grenade attached to one zombie and is able to take out a couple. Hanna keeps running, doing battle with a zombie on a cliff as she intentionally cracks the ice shelf holding them up and they tumble into a valley.
Roy and Martin discover the shed has all sorts of handy weapons and in a scene obviously in tribute to Bruce Campbell arming up in Evil Dead II, they prepare for battle with chainsaws, hatchets, and sledgehammers. In a truly fantastic battle scene full of zombie cannon fodder and stark gore on white snow, the pair actually win the first round, but not without casualties. Vegard shows up and mows down a ton of Nazi undead before being literally ripped apart. Hanna survives the fall earlier and makes it back, only to be accidentally killed by Martin while in a battle rage. Never, ever try to grab a guy covered in zombie blood and swinging a hatchet. Still, a victory is a victory...
That is, until Herzog bellows for reinforcements.
Another battle ensues, but Martin is bitten. Remembering what Erland had said about zombie bites, Martin takes his own arm off with the chainsaw. Hardcore.
Herzog calls for even more zombies, so Plan B. Plan B involves running really fast. It works for a while, but Roy is cut down by Herzog. Before devouring Roy, Herzog loots him. This gives Martin an idea. Remembering the box of gold things in the now-burnt-down cabin (thanks to Roy's poor Molotov cocktail-throwing skills), Martin returns there and digs up the box, handing it over to Herzog. This seems to please the undead officer, and Martin makes his getaway. He reaches the cars and tries to start one, but notices a gold coin fall to the floor. Martin picks it up and slowly straightens to see Herzog outside the window. The Nazi officer smashes the window and reaches for Martin...and that's the end.
Dead Snow didn't totally blow me away. There were some moments that seemed like a stretch, but hey, if the purpose of the movie was to throw some crazy images, beautiful scenery, and wild zombie kills my way, then it succeeded. Unless I missed it, I would've liked to have a touch more of a hint as to how Herzog and his men became the undead. The ill-fated hiker mentioned the area had an "evil reputation," but that's not quite enough for me. I've been to some bars with an evil reputation, but didn't come out undead. Felt like it the next morning, though.
The acting was quite good and once you know who's who, you do grow attached to some characters. The scenery is gorgeous, but at the same time reminds you how isolated the area is. Herzog made for a menacing villain, with subtle facial expressions that gave him a definite air of evil. As if the Nazi uniform wasn't evil enough. And you can't totally fault a movie that has chainsaws, sledgehammers, and a friggin' machine gun snowmobile:
Those of you in a winter state, use that as a manual to deal with the undead outside your shelter gates.
See you next time, survivors!