“DEAD SNOW; RED VS. DEAD” (Sundance Movie Review)
Fake it till you make it; whether you put any stock in the old adage or not, it seems to have worked wonders for Norwegian filmmaker, Tommy Wirkola. Having broken through with a film based on a great concept that rarely results in something great (Nazi Zombies), Wirkola had cultivated a true fanbase. Still, and without discounting the undoubtedly hard work that goes into crafting a feature film, the director received much (justified) criticism for over-relying on stylistic influence and homage, particularly to the comedic horror of Sam Raimi and early Peter Jackson. In the intervening five years however—which saw him hit Hollywood with the goofy good time HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS—the filmmaker seems to have honed his horror-comedy craft, developing his own style, confronting his past shortcomings and delivering a film both worthy of its base idea and a packed house.
At its very beginning, DEAD SNOW; RED VS. DEAD isn’t entirely out of the Raimi-loving woods, catching the audience up with a quick, gory recap of the first film and a transplant that leaves lone survivor Martin with a renegade zombie arm, which previously belonged to Nazi zombie leader Colonel Herzog. Naturally under investigation for the massacre of his friends, Martin aims to escape the hospital, get back to the good fight and discover just what it is the SS undead are in search of. He’s not alone, however. A young child in the hospital, who Martin unfortunately and hilariously annihilates with his ghoulish appendage, puts the lead in touch with some brothers-in-arms: The Zombie Squad.
Led by Daniel (FREAKS & GEEKS’ Martin Starr) and rounded out by Monica and Blake (Jocelyn DeBoer and Ingrid Haas, respectively), the Zombie Squad is a huge key to the success of DEAD SNOW; RED VS. DEAD. Clearly taking the piss out of the types of overzealous (probably delusional) fans that get kicks from preparing for a nonfictional zombie apocalypse, Wirkola has the trio walk a fine line between utter goofballs and endearing characters throughout. Of course, Starr, DeBoer and Haas are integral to this, each lending a warm, energetic presence to the mayhem-fueled proceedings. Wirkola brings a reckless abandon to DEAD SNOW: RED VS. DEAD, opening up Norwegian towns to Nazi Zombie siege and sparing no one a splattery end in the process. It’s outlandish and gruesome and nice to have a warm center for contrast.
Also significant to DEAD SNOW; RED VS. DEAD is the visual flair from Wirkola and returning cinematographer Matthew Weston. The two give proper due to the Icelandic locations, capturing often stunning landscape against the grit of battle. Make no mistake, the subtitle of this sequel isn’t simply wordplay and the carnage isn’t simply zombie “attacks.” In action and image, Wirkola approaches DEAD SNOW 2 as a war film. When the ghastly troops lay waste to a town, it is in the spirit of pillaging warriors and the film’s final confrontation—in which Martin and the Zombie Squad have amassed their own legion of zombies—is a rousing set piece, complete with widespread chaos, small scale character arcs and excellent, blood soaked physical comedy throughout.
There are moments that threaten regression in DEAD SNOW; RED VS. DEAD, most notably the ever-tired running gag of a closeted gay character who believes everyone around him doesn’t know. It’s entirely strange anyone thinks this is a fresh, funny facet and I almost couldn’t believe two of the horror films at Sundance saw fit to include such. Thankfully, that and another character’s STAR WARS obsession are kept mostly out of the way of the momentum Wirkola works up, and are entirely through with for the big finish and an unbelievable epilogue (scored to “Total Eclipse of the Heart”) which, like the entire movie, unexpectedly really works.