Dead Snow was made by people who grew up watching scary movies. There’s no doubt it was inspired by various video store jaunts, perusing the horror section for titles with huge clamshell boxes that promised thrills mainstream films dare not depict. But although their peculiar premise is best fit for the tribute treatment, the makers of Dead Snow opted to play things straight. I appreciate their desire to avoid making an overly trite parody, but despite an increase in technical competence, there’s not enough ingenuity at work to help them surpass the very flicks they’re riffing.
As countless clodhoppers have before them, the youthful stars of Dead Snow embark on an innocent holiday that gets really ugly, really fast. Some randy lads and their fetching dates head to a cozy mountain getaway for some drinking, snowmobiling, and anything else they can think of to pad out the running time. The kids run into a passing stranger, whose ramblings of a great evil in the area they attribute to Crazy Ralph Syndrome. But are they in for a surprise when none other than Nazi zombies rise from the snow and commence a blitzkrieg of the dead. With little else to fight back with, the group must use knowledge gleaned from a lifetime of watching horror movies in order to survive a predicament torn from the pages of a Troma script.
I hate spending half of my horror reviews denouncing the genre for being gimmicky. It’s great when any film, not just horror, embraces something special to flag down potential viewers, but not when its core remains resolutely tame. Dead Snow has the same issues as Greece’s Evil, banking on its premise instead of beefing up its content. Is the idea of teens doing battle with undead SS officers unique? You bet your exposed innards it is, though what’s the use when it’s just another zombie flick underneath? Brains splatter, limbs are severed, and corpses get blown asunder, all of which could have been encompassed by a knowing satire. Yet director Tommy Wirkola remains insistent that much be taken at face value; films about flesh-eating Gestapo are many things, but “serious” should not be at the top of the list.
Rest assured, Dead Snow isn’t despairingly dour. There’s much room for dark comedy in the story, which Wirkola displays in scenes such as when one kid hangs precariously off a cliff by a Nazi’s unraveled intestines. It’s hard not to chuckle at moments like these, but it is easy to lament how infrequently they appear. What self-awareness Wirkola does part with amounts to a few obligatory references that only highlight how well Scream did it all the first time. I’ll commend Wirkola for some great photography and impressive special effects on a budget less than Megan Fox’s monthly Ego Cream order. But it’s still sub-par zombietainment, and almost complacently so; the film establishes one token stereotype (the movie geek) before giving up and letting the rest of the cast become Nazi chow.
Dead Snow has been hanging ten on a wave of hype for some time now, but I just don’t get it. Perhaps I’m horror’s version of some old geezer who listens to Gershwin albums whenever I’m not requesting those damn kids vacate my lawn. But a missed opportunity is a missed opportunity, and for Dead Snow to render Nazi zombies boring is to fail in a way only future historians will be able to understand.