Of all the films that I went to see at Sundance this year, I’ve got the sneaking suspicion that the majority of you are most interested in hearing my thoughts about Tommy Wirkola’s Dead Snow. Call me crazy, but the idea of Nazi Zombies attacking unsuspecting young people in the snowy mountains of Norway just has a certain charm. So I set out late on Thursday night, up the Main Street hill in Park City toward the iconic marquee of the Egyptian Theater — a theater rich in history — with the intention of immersing myself in another unique and potentially fun genre film. And with Whiskey and Cider in hand (sold at the theater, which is brilliant), I joined the single most energetic and excited crowds of this year’s festival as we watched the spectacle unfold.
Now for the sake of full-disclosure, I am a believe that a great movie theater experience can make a movie more enjoyable. Being preceded by an awesome short called Treevenge and aided by an electrified crowd full of drunken Sundancers certainly took Dead Snow to another level. It’s a simple story — a group of sexually charged med students head to a comically isolated mountain cabin to spend their Easter holiday smoking, drinking and sexing by the fire. Little do they know that their cabin is right in the middle of an area with a rich history of Nazi occupation. Led by the dastardly Col. Herzog, a group of 300 Nazi soldiers terrorized and looted a small Norwegian town back toward the end of WWII. Fed up with these horrific acts, the townsfolk set out into the mountains to fight back but were never able to find the soldiers. Years later, the aforementioned Nazis have inexplicably become zombies with a thirst for gold — and blood.
Almost schyzofrenically, Dead Snow energetically skis through what I like to call its three different personalities. In act one it is a straightforward horror flick, reliant upon shadow games and jump scares to keep us on edge. This seems all well and good — especially for an audience looking to unwind through the sacred art of scream therapy — at least until we get into the second act. In act two, the film changes gears and becomes something of a horror comedy. The Nazi zombies are revealed to be fast-running (ugh) undead prone to silly theatrics and, for lack of a better term, intestinal fortitude (there are more than a few scenes in which a zombie’s intestines are used in a similar manner as rope). And down the home stretch we get another change of pace, from horror comedy to pure gore. As the human characters — about whom we really never care thanks to a lack of development and/or charm — begin to mount their great escape, the torture porn lovers in the crowd are treated to a series of ridiculous blood-splattering moments, not the least of which is the clip we showed you before Sundance of a man cutting off his own arm with a chainsaw. It’s bloody, but not necessarily brilliant.
The overall experience — once you strip away the glossy veneer of an awesome midnight crowd in Park City — is one that is as familiar as it is entertaining. Put simply, Dead Snow was a fun ride that we’ve ridden before. And just because it happens in the snow, or involves Nazis, doesn’t make it an original work of horror. Nor does it make it any good. This film’s only hope is that it plays at midnight shows in the nation’s ripe arenas — the Alamo Drafthouses and New Beverlys of America. Those sacred places where excited (and inebriated) moviegoers can go to enjoy the communal experience of such a bloody affair. My guess, though, is that this film will be most often seen on DVD — and in that arena, it is sure to disappoint.