Friday, June 19, 2009

What Hath Our Masters Wrought?

If I were throwing a month-long celebration of Sam Raimi (which I just might considering how great Drag Me To Hell was), this film would be at the top of my “missed the point” list. But seeing as how this film owes as much to George A. Romero as it does Sam Raimi (and Ken Wiederhorn, but I digress) I’ll just dive in now and get it over with. Dead Snow or Død Snø is a pretty stupid movie, but its one steeped in influence, that is to say constructed entirely out of its misguided appreciation for other movies, so here it is. I read about this on The Auteurs of all places and thought I’d check it out. That’s the last time I let the art crowd tell me my business. They may know the cream of old French and modern Thai cinema but horror still eludes them. I guess these guys like Sergio Leone and Dead In 3 Days, too, so I really have no one to blame but myself. Anyway, this is something of a landmark, because I believe this is the first Norwegian zombie film I’ve ever seen. For their sake I hope that next time they tap into whatever talent pool Joachim Trier came from, because this may be the single worst showing of any country’s talent I’ve ever seen.

Dead Snow
by Tommy Wirkola
I’ll give them one thing, I’ve never seen "Hall of the Mountain King" used in a zombie film before. Now if only the rest of the film lived up to that inspired goofiness. A girl runs through the woods and gets cut down by a pack of assailants as the song climaxes. Cut to eight medical students who are on their way to a friends cabin to spend easter break. Vegrand is a veteran and seems the most likable of the bunch. Hannah (who has some insidious whitegirl dreadlocks) and Martin are dating and are the least party-oriented. Erland and Kris are gormless and obnoxious, which means they’ll be first to go. Liv and Roy don’t get personalities so they probably won’t be long for this film. Vegrand’s girlfriend is skiing up to meet them, but Vegrand doesn’t hang around long enough to be a third wheel while everyone pairs up. The first night they’re there a stranger wanders up and does the exposition thing. Nazis came through here, sure, trapped in the snow, ok, presumed dead, probably zombies, ok, we’re good. The stranger wanders off after making a total dick of himself and then gets killed in his tent. Vegrand gets nervous and decides to snowmobile after his girlfriend to make sure she’s safe. As soon as he leaves, the guys find some Nazi gold beneath the floorboards and decide to keep it. Do I even need to hint where this is going?

If I could pick three words to describe this film they would be: Lame, lame, lame. Relying on really amateurish humour (much of it stolen) when they aren’t ruining perfectly good untapped set-pieces for the rest of the zombie making community, the makers of Dead Snow really only proved how many movies they’ve seen. Given that piece of information, you’d think that would have enabled them to make a better movie. The screenplay is full of a lot of good-idea-at-the-time bits like a reverse POV disembowelment, tree climbing zombies, and someone biting a zombie  back, but really they just point out how trite the rest of the film is. If you were capable of dreaming up the intestine cliff-hanger, why was it so difficult to write a better screenplay to house your gory sense of humour. I’d also like to say that you’ve ruined the first snow-covered zombie movie, something I’d been looking forward to. In fact they do a lot of pointless ruining. There’s a pretty nifty thing about avalanches that they waste and some stuff about Vegrand's military training that also gets lost in the shuffle; this is one of the most ADD scripts I’ve ever encountered. And I will not resign myself to the “it’s a tribute, take it easy” mentality that so many people have succumb to. The makers of these films seem to think that because only nerds will pay attention that they can just drop a few names and call it a day. Well that’s not enough to please this nerd! Not when there are good movies being made without CGI, crude humour, and the cost of all those nazi props. They don’t even explain how they got be zombies. That’s all some of my friends do, think up origins for zombies. It’s a movie, a lot of money got spent, it could have been ten thousand times better and I don’t want to hear your excuses.
I guess that the villains name was Herzog should have been my first clue because clearly good direction is the enemy. Let me also say this: a Temple of Doom quote is never a good sign. Nor is a fat guy in a Dead Alive T-Shirt. It just means that a lot of gory tedium is about to take place. Case in point: Erland goes to use the bathroom and Kris comes out to seduce him. He’s shitting! Sorry, don’t buy this for a fucking second. Then the filmmakers pull what is easily the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in a zombie film after that head-in-the-fridge thing from Zombie 3. Kris gets pulled into the toilet by a zombie, which means he would have to have been wading in feces for hours and actually waited for Erlend the fat guy to finish before he made his move. Anyway, when Erlend gets his brain pulled out in a Shaun of the Dead/Dead Alive paraphrase, I finally got what this film’s character was: stupid. You know that guy who shows up at parties that no one invited who keeps making misogynistic jokes? That’s this movie. People are there to be stupid and get killed and the plot better just get out of the way. And the worst part about it is that these guys clearly think that they’re up to Evil Dead standards. What that film has that this one doesn't is a balance of charm, horror and fright. They kept the ‘Boo!’ moments coming, had all manner of slapsticky yet scary demon attacks, and characters we could care about. Today’s films have none of those things but want to be considered on the same level.

This is the sort of film where the lines between paying tribute and ripping off are pretty well blurred. They ‘reference’ Dead Alive, The Evil Dead, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Shaun of the Dead, The Descent, Day of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Planet Terror, Zombie Lake, From Dusk Till Dawn, Dog Soldiers and Shockwaves and that’s before even the halfway mark. In some cases the script tries to make up for it by name-checking those influences before they get around to stealing visual cues from them, but they don’t nearly account for all of them. Nazi zombies, done before, cabin in the woods, done before, chainsaw, pointless and done before, intestine humour, done before, pulled out the window by zombies, done by EVERYONE. I don’t think it’s enough to say “We’re having fun with the genre!” to make up for a totally predictable and brainless movie. Especially when there are a few minor triumphs, like the cinematography, locations and two or three lines in the script. I mean, if you had given the same money, actors, premise and locations to another filmmaker, Greg Mclean or Ti West say, you would at the very least have gotten a film that isn’t so embarrassing.
I never said George’s legacy was all gold, but, at the very least young filmmakers are passing on love to bygone generations. Now if only we could get them to make decent films that also pay lip service to the greats. I can see that it's time to dig out my copy of Evil Dead and remind myself that people did at one point used to know how to make a great funny horror film.

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