Film Review: Dead Snow (2009)

Dead Snow is the Nazi-zombie horror film from Norway. For some, the first half of that sentence is all they need to know about the film. I will even admit that the Nazi-zombie hybrid is what drew me to this film in the first place.

I've been fooled by both horror sub-genres many times before. Modern Nazi horror tends to move very slowly and hide the promised threat until the final minutes. Modern zombie films have a bad habit of bending any rule they can think of to make their zombie a brand new experience. Thankfully, Dead Snow avoids both of those pitfalls. Instead, it falls for the unfortunate trappings of a well-meaning comedy/horror film.

If I had just watched the first hour of this film, I would not have thought it was a horror/comedy at all. It introduces us to seven young people visiting a remote mountain cabin for their Easter holiday. They drink, they play games in the snow, and they begin to push each others' buttons. A mysterious stranger arrives in the middle of the night, warning them of the dark and blood-soaked history of Nazi occupation in Norway. The young people do not heed the warning and begin to come face to face with the undead army of Colonel Hanz Herzog.

It is not until the last thirty minutes that the film actually aims for comedy. That's a big problem. There is no balance. It's slapstick gore jokes randomly jabbed into suspenseful scenes. The jokes are tired. It's camp without any nods to anything that has come before. It's just odd moments of blood and guts--mainly produced through a mixed bag of CGI and practical effects--that director Tommy Wirkola really wants you to laugh at.

Is it wrong to fault a horror film for trying to be everything for everyone? Not when it destroys all the good will it builds for the first hour by suddenly shifting its target demographic. Dead Snow easily could have been a must see new spin on the zombie film. Instead, it's 2/3 of a must see film and 1/3 of the derivative nonsense that turns people off of horror every day.

There is a novel concept here that I like in spite of the final act of the film. The motivation behind the rising--easy to predict earlier on--is deeply satisfying. You can go two ways with zombies: explain everything or explain nothing. If you explain everything, the story better hold up. This one does.

If you invited a bunch of friends over, made some snacks and drinks, and played Dead Snow out on a big screen TV, you'd have a great time. It's a crowd pleasing horror film. It relies on the fact that no two people will respond to a shock in the same way to throw its audience off-guard. A group, small or large, would amp each other up to really respond to the blood-soaked climax. I'd warn away from a solo viewing if it all possible. This film needs a larger audience than a single person and a screen. Plus, it's a Nazi-zombie film. Doesn't curiosity alone make you want to see how that would work?

Rating: 5/10

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