Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/26/14 11:46:32

"More of the same, but the same is still Nazi zombies."
3 stars (Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: As much as I would tell many that Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkolka's "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" was an underrated bit of high-concept fun, I was not the biggest fan of his first international hit. That's a bit of a problem by some definitions of what it takes to give a movie a fair shake, as this sequel was definitely made to give those who liked "Dead Snow" more of that thing that they liked. It is that, although I give Tommy Wirkola plenty of credit in pushing it into being a "next step" rather than just a repeat.

This new film picks up right where the last one left off, quickly putting sole survivor Martin (Vegar Hoel) under arrest on the hospital, since nobody is going to believe the body count at the ski lodge is the result of Nazi zombies. Realizing that Herzog (Ørjan Gamst) and his undead legion are still kicking, he escapes to confront them at a WWII museum, picking up tour guide Glenn (Stig Frode Henriksen) as a sidekick, and Glenn discovers an American "zombie squad" online that they can alert - not realizing that it's one guy who still lives with his mother (Martin Starr) and his two nerd-girl friends (Jocelyn DeBoer & Ingrid Haas). Probably the only reason they're not totally doomed is that the doctors surgically reattached Herzog's arm to Martin's stump rather than his own, giving him some zombie Nazi superpowers.

My issues with this are sort of the same as the first, although a little experience and a somewhat higher budget helps to smooth some shortcomings out a bit. Both Dead Snow movies are the type of horror-comedy hybrids where there's no real heft to the horror, which leaves the splatstick without the real zing it needs to be scary as well as a gross-out joke. There nothing wrong with these movies just being horror-villain mash-ups, but the ambition toward genuine satire or disturbance might have led to interesting places. The movie-geek stuff seems a bit lazier, easy recognition-based jokes and substitutes for personality rather than being part of one. We're often given information in a way that is a difficult balance between "how would they know that?" and "yay for getting us to the good stuff quicker!"

And there is good stuff; while the basic idea is simple, Wirkola is generally inventive in the details, and has an enjoyable bloody streak. Folks who remember all the creative things he did with intestines in the original will be pleased to see that he still intends to use every inch of the mile of them that we've supposedly each got in out guts. He likes to go big; the movie's finale is the work of someone who has bigger ambitions than "what my budget can do" and seems delightfully practical as well. Bits may seem kind of fake even by "movie about Nazi zombies" standards, but the sheer fun of how much he's escalated things even beyond the tank makes up for a lot.

Presumably, he's able to afford a little more ambition by pitching the movie more directly toward an international audience, shooting (or at least doing ADR) in both Norwegian and English whenever possible; the festival version was about half-and-half, depending upon who was on-screen, though I gather monolingual dubs will be available. In this version, the cast is fairly good: As much as Vegar Hoel seems like a supporting actor thrust into a lead role, that works for the character as well; he's a zombie-killer who always seems just about to get his ass kicked. Martin Starr pumps his American character up with enough confidence that even the audience who knows better almost believes it, while Stig Frode Henriksen, Jocelyn DeBoer, and Ingrid Haas are decent sidekicks, although the ladies get stuck with the worst reference-based jokes. Ørjan Gamst is one of a handful of undead with more personality underneath the impressively grotesque makeup than usual.

Folks who liked the first "Dead Snow" will probably get a kick out of this one; it's the same sort of gore-and-goofiness mix, if a bit bigger on both sides. This one could probably do with being a bit less spoofy - the last scene is a bit much even if it does get a laugh - but the action is correspondingly bigger too, and neither has grown so far out of proportion as to lose their original appeal.

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