CAPSULE: A week-long Easter vacation visit to a remote cabin in the mountains turns into a horror for eight young medical students. Following the inspiration of Sam Raimi films Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola does his own horror film of something nasty out in the woods. This is very much by-the-numbers horror film making. It is not at all bad, but it has little that is fresh and new. DEAD SNOW is done with sufficient style to keep it interesting, but a little originality would have gone a long way. This is not going to create much of an international market for Norwegian horror film. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Last year we saw an unusual sort of horror film from Sweden. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was a vampire film, but it was distinctly Swedish, and the biting cold and the darkness of Sweden in the winter filled every scene. It was one of the better films last year. Perhaps inspired by the success of that film, this year we get to see a Norwegian horror film. But the style of the film is distinctly American. The film was made in Norway and the language is Norwegian with English subtitles. It even starts with a thundering rendition of Edvard Grieg's "The Hall of the Mountain King" from "Peer Gynt". But the plotting and the atmosphere are all inspired by films from right here in the United States. And in fact if you were not noticing the similarities, one of the characters is a film nerd who reminds us how similar the situation of the characters is to that in films like Sam Raimi's EVIL DEAD I & II. The film starts out as a more serious horror film--if "serious" is the right word--but by the last twenty minutes it will definitely visit gonzo-Raimi-land.
DEAD SNOW starts with eight Norwegian medical students, four male and four female, on Easter Break. They are headed into the mountains in a remote part of their country. Here they have a cabin in the snow and they expect to spend the week snowmobiling, drinking beer, and having sex. But we keep seeing signs that there is something moving in the woods outside. It is something that moves fast and kills, but we cannot see what. Our eight students are oblivious to it all. Then the first night someone comes to the door. He is a camper in the area who demands a cup of coffee. He tells the visitors that they are on dangerous ground. In World War II the German Army was particularly brutal in this area. The area was of strategic value to them and they wanted to be sure to control the locals. When they started losing the war the entire unit of soldiers turned to looting the town and then went off to hide in these forests. He is mysterious as to why this piece of history, more than 60 years old, is still important. But the visitors come only too well to understand.
Director/co-writer Tommy Wirkola films the proceedings generally effectively, but he really has very little original to give us. Except for detail about what exactly the threat is, this is mostly well-trodden territory. (I will not reveal what the threat is here, but it is less than imaginative and was used as far back as 1977 in a Peter Cushing film.)
While the general photography is atmospheric, an effect of a head pulled apart is very unconvincing. One character supposedly loses an arm, but it is really just misplaced because we can easily see it tucked in his jacket. Several of the characters end up covered with and/or spitting blood, a brighter hue than the real thing making it not very convincing. There will be a lot of stage blood visible before the final frame.
There are also some script errors. We are told early on that cell phones do not work this high up the mountain, but later when the plot calls for it a cell phone seems to work perfectly well. The film frequently uses false scares intended to make the viewer jump. But Wirkola's film is not nearly as spellbinding as it would have to be to make those shots work.
In the end the worst fault of this film is that it is too good an imitation of the films that Wirkola admires. I rate the film a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. There is some vulgar language, but that seems to be the custom these days. Norwegians are a lot like Americans.
DEAD SNOW opens theatrically in New York June 19, and on demand via "IFC in Theaters" starting June 10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1278340/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/dead_snow/
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper