Search This Blog

Thursday, October 9, 2014

HubrisWeen 2, Day 4: Dead Snow (2009)

Written by Tommy Wirkola and Stig Frode Henriksen
Directed by Tommy Wirkola

Vegar Hoel:  Martin
Stig Frode Henriksen:  Roy
Lasse Valdal:  Vegard
Jeppe Beck Laursen:  Erlend
Charlotte Frogner:  Hanna
Evy Kasseth Rosten:  Liv
Jenny Skavlan:  Chris
Ane Dahl Torp:  Sara

And Orjan Gamst as Oberst Herzog

Cripes, man, another Norwegian Nazi zombie horror comedy? Well, best get to it. Those cheap jokes aren't going to write themselves.

We start with a woman running through a winter forest at twilight, with "Hall of the Mountain King" playing on the soundtrack. Things go from bad (popup undead grey-skinned Nazi!) to worse (falling down a hill and breaking her leg) to fatal (the zombie gets to her and kills her) before the credits. But at least the viewer knows exactly what kind of movie they're watching now.

The expected sudden transition to other characters in the movie happens now--four men in a car are going on a road trip or vacation or something, talking about what to do if you get caught in an avalanche--which is actually something that might happen to you in Norway if you're off in the wilderness. One of the men says that after you've been buried by snow you can't necessarily tell which way to dig in order to get free, so you're supposed to spit and see which way is down. This scene and the attendant conversations establish the archetypes for our four male leads--The Horny One, The Fat Nerdy Guy, Dude Wearing Glasses and Used To Be A Soldier. That's really about all the characterization we'll be getting for them, other than the revelation that Glasses is a med student that practically passes out at the sight of blood.

There's three women in another car, and we don't really get any characterization for them at all. Which is too bad--maybe it's just selection bias but I always assumed that foreign movies were better at characterization and script than the disposable American trash that I generally prefer to watch. On the other hand, maybe the foreign art movies that get to the States are just the cream of the crop and there's lots of other European movies that aren't really all that good.

Former Soldier takes a snowmobile to the cabin and says he'll get it ready for the others, who walk through more rather amazing mountain scenery and start talking about how lots of horror movies feature isolated cabins with no cell reception, just like the cabin they're going to. One of the women mentions April Fool's Day, which is a pretty deep cut in a conversation like this. They get to the cabin, which looks really nice and well-maintained rather than the falling-to-pieces wreck that I was expecting. There's a wood burning stove and plenty of beer; that night there's Twister and a card game to occupy everyone's time and Martin the med student mock-smothers his girlfriend with a pillow while calling it "the medieval anaesthetic". Everybody thinks this is a jerk move, so at least the movie knows he's being a schmuck.

Something in the beer cooler under the cabin is glowing; the blonde in the group goes out to use the outhouse and sees someone in the woods. When she goes back to the cabin and tells everyone this, Horny goes outside and looks around, then turns around and declares there's nobody there. Which leads to the inevitable "there totally is someone there" jump scare, but the blocking of that particular scene impressed the hell out of me. It's a middle-aged man who asks if they can spare a cup of coffee (and my notes correctly assume he's going to be the Crazy Ralph in this film, clueing the characters and audience in to what the menace in the wilderness is going to be).

It's time for the first-act exposition dump, everyone! Soldier's girlfriend owns the cabin; she's cross-country skiing to meet everyone there. The older man says the terrain isn't the worst thing in the area. Back during World War II, the Nazis controlled the nearby village and were brutal and heavy-handed even for the Third Reich. Near the end of the war, when it became obvious that they were going to lose, the Nazis stationed in the village stole all the gold and silver from everyone in the town, planning to finance an escape to a friendly country with it (or something). Just before they could flee, a secret partisan band of 3,000 fed up Norwegians attacked three hundred soldiers, killing most of them. The surviving Nazis fled to the mountains to freeze, still carrying the ransacked gold and silver. After seventy years or so it can be safely assumed that they starved or froze, but their bodies were never found and the legend in the region says they're Still Out There Somewhere(tm), waiting to reawaken. Horny mocks the story; Crazy Ralph leaves after politely thanking the vacationers for the coffee.

In a sequence that turns out to be Just A Dream, Soldier sees one of the women goofing around with the trap door, and then spitting up blood outside the cabin. Next up:  Crazy Ralph sleeping in his tent. He hears a noise and goes outside with a flashlight and gun, fixes a loose tent stake and returns inside just in time for a Nazi zombie to cut his throat. And despite the rote material in the script, this sequence looks really great--the distant shots of the mountain scenery couldn't have been that easy to get and the tent looks incredibly alone and isolated in the long shots. The spraying blood inside the tent turns the lamplight orange, which also looks great. I mean, credit where it's due, this sequence does a heck of a lot well.

Soldier takes the snow scooter away to look for his girlfriend, who should have been there by now (and who was murdered to death in the opening sequence). And again, the mountain scenery in this sequence is absolutely magnificent. I'm sure I sound redundant by now but I really can't praise the cinematography enough, especially because the screenplay was purchased from the discount box at the secondhand movie parts store and the characterization would have to improve to be sparse. Soldier gets to Crazy Ralph's tent, stops in to say hello, sees the body, panics and flees.

Meanwhile, Fatty Nerd Guy finds a wooden box full of gold, jewelry and coins dated 1942 in a snow pit under a trapdoor in the cabin's floor (this part of Norway is very, very handy for keeping the beer cold). Martin, the med student, is the token sensible person and says someone owns this gold and that it isn't theirs to take. He also says they should wait till Soldier and Sara get back, which we know is impossible--or at least if Sara gets brought to the cabin she won't have an opinion on anything. Nerdy Fat Guy goes out to the outhouse and is romantically ambushed by one of the women in just about the least romantic spot possible. After he goes back to the cabin, the woman who jumped him is yanked down through the outhouse seat by Naz-ghoul, stabbed in the stomach and tackled before she can get inside (there is the obligatory loud music in the cabin drowning out her screams, of course). When the reanimated Nazi holds her head up to frighten someone else in the cabin everyone realizes shit got real; Horny and Tubby try to block the front door with a couch and can't get it through the interior doorway in a scene the plays out simultaneously as funny and as how that would probably work out in real life. And there's another really neat shot of two of the spam-in-a-cabin campers' faces in a window pane, framed by frost. When a zombie tries to break in he gets his hand cut off and the swastika ring on his finger lets everyone still alive know that Crazy Ralph was right and things are now terrible.

The fat movie nerd warns everyone not to get bitten by any of the zombie Nazis, but doesn't know enough to stand away from the windows during a zombie siege; he gets yanked halfway outside and his head torn in half. Of all the characters in the movie, he should have known better. The four remaining survivors plan to have the men make noise and attract the zombies and the women run for the car. Meanwhile, Soldier has fallen into a snow cave and improvises a torch, finding lots of Nazi gear and the severed head of his girlfriend from the prologue. This gives him whatever the Norwegian term for "True Grit" is when a Reich of the Living Dead soldier jumps him and he beats it into deanimation with its own helmet; then, of course, a second one pops up out of the snow.

The women are running through the forest, lost, and have the inevitable horror movie debate about splitting up. A zombie shows up in a white snow poncho and growls, settling the issue (they run). Back at the cliff, Soldier is losing his fight and winds up in an elaborate predicament (hanging off a cliff edge by the entrails of one zombie with a second one attacking him). He headbutts the one fighting him till it falls to its presumed destruction. One of the fleeing girls gets suckerpunched by a zombie and wakes up as it's disemboweling her. She pulls a grenade off its belt and pulls the fuse bead; it's a moral victory at best but probably at this point she's willing to settle for that. The other woman gets chased to the edge of a cliff on an ice shelf and stamps her feet on it, breaking the ledge off and dropping down along with the reanimated Nazi.

Back at the cabin, Horny and Glasses are barricaded in. Horny improvises a Molotov cocktail and botches the throw, setting the inside of the cabin on fire (in a scene that enters the "how that would probably really go" hall of fame). Glasses makes a call to the Norwegian emergency service, describes exactly what is happening to him, and gets hung up on. The two men run to the shed (which is smaller but also not on fire) and stock on up tools that can be used as weapons, including the inevitable chainsaw. Around this time Soldier is sewing his neck wound shut with fishing line and then duct taping over it; he mounts a machine gun on his snowmobile and goes looking for Nordic Vengeance. And one of the women survived her fall, using a snot string to determine which way is down and digging the other direction to get out of the snow.

Back at the cabin Glasses and Horny prepare for their final stand against the Nazi zombies and actually win the fight against half a dozen or so of them; both men wind up with Evil Dead levels of blood on their faces. The second wave charges and Soldier arrives in time to shoot them all dead, but is torn to pieces by five more Nazi zombies. And if that isn't bad enough, Glasses accidentally kills the surviving woman at the end of this fight because he was in "default stab" mode. He gets bitten and chainsaws off his wounded hand, cauterizing the stump and attaching the chainsaw in case there was any doubt at all that the writer and director had seen Evil Dead 2. News flash:  Everyone who has seen this movie has seen that one. The final moments of the film feature the head Nazi officer summoning dozens more of his legion and taking a coin back from Horny's body. Glasses figures out that he might be able to get out of this alive by returning the treasure to the monsters that originally stole it, does so, and is allowed to flee until the inevitable "turns out I had one coin in my pocket" ending at the car--which he was having plenty of trouble turning the key and buckling the seat belt in, anyway. And then it's over.

Man, I wish I liked this one more than I did. But it's so clearly assembled from pieces of other movies and just being subtitled didn't make it any less transparent in its theft. There are some fantastic shots and sequences, but very little to recommend it otherwise. The most frustrating thing about the film for me? The undead presented here are something new and unique as a movie monster, at least as far as I can tell. They're draugr, creatures of Norse legend that guarded treasures buried with their bodies and stalked looters in order to butcher them and retrieve the stolen grave goods. They're a fantastic concept for a 21st century monster movie and provide a distinctly Norwegian flavor to a bog-standard plot--the EC comics vengeful corpse made new for an American audience.

And the movie itself doesn't explain any of that. I only know what a draugr is and what its motivating concerns are from the Wikipedia summary of the movie. What an utterly, utterly missed opportunity.

This review is part of the HubrisWeen 2014 marathon. The other reviews for today’s entry are:

The Terrible Claw Reviews:  Dog Soldiers

Yes, I Know:  Dangerous Seductress


  1. I just saw this a couple days ago. "Crazy Ralph" = "Harbinger" in Cabin-in-the-Woods-speak, I assume. What's the etymology of Crazy Ralph?

    It wasn't very good, and yet I loved it for its self-awareness. I was rolling my eyes right up until they won me over with the reference to their horror-movie-standard isolated cabin with no phone service. And they followed through on the winks and nods: the harbinger, the sex-havers were the first two killed, the chainsaw, the insistence on splitting up against all logic. Great fun.

    I had pigeon-holed the female characters as standard-issue Smart, Pretty, and Slut. And they died in the proper order (though traditionally I think Smart/Virginish should have been the last survivor).

    Dammit, I should have recognized those things as draugr, I killed about a million of 'em in Skyrim.

    Grossest sex scene ever. Was that deliberate?

    I was impressed that the snow was so clean and undisturbed when it needed to be. A lot of one-take successes. Or else a lot more CGI than I realized.

  2. Did Terrible Claw and Yes I Know give up already?

  3. No, they both posted reviews. It's hard to synchronize this stuff between three people in different time zones with day jobs. I apologize for any inconvenience.

  4. And to respond to your earlier comment, "Crazy Ralph" is the term a friend from the B Movie Message Board used to describe the character who tells people they're doomed. I think that character in one of the first "Friday the 13th" movies is actually named Crazy Ralph and that's where it came from.

    As to the sex in the outhouse, yeah, that's not a place that seduction needs to take place in at all. And you're right about the snow--apparently the Coen brothers learned a lot about lighting and shooting outdoor snowy scenes with "Fargo", and tried to help Sam Raimi out with the filming challenges in "A Simple Plan". It's got to be nerve-wracking to know you only get one take in a given location.