SIFF 2014: ‘Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead’ Movie Review

by Warren Cantrell on May 28, 2014

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Minor Rock Fist Up]

An enjoyable sequel to a surprisingly good zombie-slasher flick from the other side of the world, Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead (Norwegian: Dod Sno 2) keeps the gore flowing and the blood pouring, even if it does broaden itself to the point of capsizing. A direct follow-up to 2009’s Dead Snow, director Tommy Wirkola is back with another take-no-prisoners examination of how bad it could get if not just zombies, but Nazi-zombies mucked about and started some shit. And while the story picks up right where the last film left off, and the outrageous visual gags and over-the-top gore outdo the previous installment, the sequel tries to do a little bit too much at times.

Which isn’t to say Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead is anything less than a total frickin’ hoot, ‘cause it is! The movie opens with a quick flashback of events from the first film to bring everyone up to speed, and then picks things up as if the first installment had never ended. Martin (Vegar Hoel), the sole survivor of the first movie’s horrific butchering, is shown only narrowly escaping from the treacherous mountain retreat where the resurrected Nazi SS squad killed his friends and pressured him into chainsawing off his goddamned arm. After his escape, Martin wakes up in a hospital, surrounded by grinning doctors who proudly brag about their surgery to reattach his severed arm.

Of course, it ain’t Martin’s arm. No, it belongs to Herzog (Orjan Gamst), the leader of the Nazi zombies, whose new purpose (after securing a new arm of his own) is to raze a nearby village so as to comply with an order from Hitler that was given nearly fifty years ago. Thus the central conflict of the movie is set in motion, for Martin must try to find a way to stop the murderous Nazi zombie horde whilst battling the independent (and often malicious) actions of his new arm. He’s also got the local police force on his ass, for the fuzz believe Martin to be a delusional murderer.

As the film moves out of its first act, where all of this is set up, it clicks along rather nicely, and balances plot exposition and its unique brand of over-the-top gore quite well. Where Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead starts to run into problems is in the introduction of new characters: none of whom seem to have been thoughtfully conceived. One of the first people Martin enlists to help him eliminate the Nazi zombie menace is Glenn (Stig Frode Henriksen), an employee at the local World War II museum. Valuable because of his detailed knowledge of Norway’s Nazi occupation, the film uses Glenn’s overt gayness to scare up a few cheap laughs, usually to thin out the atmosphere in an especially heavy or gory scene.

Although Glenn’s flailing antics do earn a couple quick chuckles here and there, his presence is more of a reminder that director Tommy Wirkola has matured in some ways, yet regressed in others. On the one hand, Wirkola probably realized that his movie needed a few comic beats to even out the deliciously irreverent blood bath he put on display, yet on the other, he must not have understood that Glenn’s brand of effeminate gay helplessness doesn’t really work as a slam-dunk laugh-factory anymore.

Some of this same criticism could also be leveled at the other set of new faces in Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead. Freaks & Geeks alum Martin Starr is introduced in the second act as Daniel, leader of the U.S.-based “Zombie Squad,” and does a fine job in his role as the wide-eyed zombie killer who has been watching movies, reading comics, and otherwise studying his whole life for the day when the undead actually rise. Martin informs Daniel that day has indeed come, and before long, the Zombie Squad is in Norway and putting in some honest, bloody work. And while Martin Starr and his Daniel character are a fun addition to the story, his two female sidekicks are utterly wasted via a couple of throwaway gags that don’t work at all (the Star Wars references chief among them).

Still, this is a zombie slasher flick, so if you’re go into this thing looking for well-rounded characters and nuanced plot development, that’s kinda your own damn fault. Credit should be given to Tommy Wirkola for making a sequel that faithfully integrates the story of the first one into a new picture that’s very much its own creature. It would have been easy to pull an Evil Dead 2, and just send another group of kids to the mountains to disturb the Nazi zombie horde in the sequel, but Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead went in a new, fresh direction, and told its own tale. It also did what any “Part 2” in a horror franchise must: it upped the ante in terms of the violence, gore, and mayhem.

Yep, Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead has more killings, more inventive ways to kill, and kills that a person would/could never see coming. The pacing is brisk, and the technical aspects of the visual and audio work all point towards a director coming into his own, and feeling more comfortable with his craft. A fun time, and a worthy follow-up, the sometimes broad characters and a tacked on post-ending vignette aren’t enough to sink this one, which is currently playing at the Seattle International Film Festival.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and his own site, 10rant.com. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing. Mr. Cantrell is happily unmarried, and without any children, pets, or plants.

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