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We Came to Play, It's What We Do

By Phillip Stephens | Film | June 18, 2009 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | June 18, 2009 |

Tommy Wirkola’s Dead Snow heavily relies on the past, far too content to stack homage upon homage than to forge something unique. The film is little more than a formula larded with references to Wirkola’s favorite films, making Dead Snow nothing more than goofy fan service and a visceral thrill-ride for horror fans. And that’s fine, I guess. I certainly had fun watching the film romp giddily through its gory collage, and the premise - Nazi zombies (!) - is enough to coast on kitsch value alone. Wirkola subscribes to the idea that, so long as the premise is sufficiently ridiculous, there’s no reason for a film to have any depth. I won’t argue with that, but this means his pastiche effort won’t be remembered with the same fervor as his inspirations.

Eight medical students are vacationing in the frigid north of Finnmark, using their Easter break to enjoy some beer-swilling outdoorsy antics when they stumble upon a conclave of undead Nazis slaughtered during the Norwegian occupation. Wirkola enjoys setting up his pins, knowing the audience will be fully aware of the splatterfest in store during the second half, where the film will shift from thriller to slapstick comedy. I’ve mentioned that Wirkola is reference-happy, but it needs to be underscored - Dead Snow is unapologetic, lifting entire segments from Peter Jackson and the Evil Dead franchise (as well as one plagiarized moment from The Descent). One character proudly bears a Braindead (Dead Alive) t-shirt and boasts openly of his fondness for Sam Raimi - probably a stand-in for Wirkola himself.

Despite a tiny budget of about $2 million, Dead Snow looks and sounds great. Production value and camerawork are certainly up to snuff - Aussie cinematographer Matt Weston shoots the action scenes like an extreme sports commercial, with characters heaving in slow-motion with axes and chainsaws akimbo to rend undead flesh, a perfect fit for Wirkola’s meta of pastiche and parody.

Dead Snow certainly earns points for enthusiasm; the last act finds Wirkola doing almost nothing save trying to out-gore the previous scene, as blood rockets from chainsaw wounds and intestines are uncoiled like fleshy ropes. The nastiest moment in the film is, however, a borderline coprophagous sex scene. Wirkola shares Peter Jackson’s perverse joy in presenting the most lurid visuals imaginable and then rubbing the audience’s face in them. The film is as fun as it is asinine, it’s just a shame that Wirkola had nothing new to add to the equation. Homages are always welcome, but Dead Snow’s existence is nothing more than an excuse to pile as many together as possible, nostalgic retrieval without inherent motivation. Now that Wirkola has aired out his resume, it’s time for him to start honing his own ideas rather than endlessly rehashing the past with no intention of moving on.

Phillip Stephens lives in Fayetteville, AR.

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