Fantastic Fest Review: 'Dead Snow 2' a Masterpiece Theme Park Ride
by Jeremy Kirk
September 19, 2014
There's not a lot more you can do with the Nazi zombie premise, right? Fortunately, that's not a question Tommy Wirkola bothered to ask. The Norwegian writer/director blazed into the genre scene with his 2009 insta-cult hit, Dead Snow, a film whose basis cries out to be loved by horror fans "in the know." Its black-humor attitude and ultra-gore paving the way for it to be crowned the new Evil Dead. If Dead Snow is Wirkola's Evil Dead, Dead Snow 2 is definitely his Army of Darkness. A wild, often hilarious romp that casually tip-toes between genres, it takes its own mythos and expands them into something truly awesome.
Beginning seamlessly at the end of the first film, Dead Snow 2 follows Martin (Vegar Hoel), the lone survivor of a group of friends who just wanted some R&R at a secluded cabin in the mountains of Norway. It's the World War II, Nazi, zombie aspect of the first film that took care of the rest of his party, their one, unforgivable sin coming when they find and keep a wooden box full of Nazi gold. Having returned all the gold pieces, Martin believes the undead will return to their graves. Unfortunately for him (and the world), this particular batch of zombies still has some unfinished business to attend to here in the physical world, gold or no, and Martin soon finds himself in a race to stop the flesh-eating undead from raging across Northern Europe and completing their 70-year-old mission.
Wirkola's work has its share of denigrators, some finding Dead Snow too forced in the cult classic category and others calling his American debut, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, a witless waste of good CGI. Both films have their fair share of pros and cons, the positives almost always having to do with their "dumb fun" attitudes. While his films are loads of stylish entertainment, they rarely struggle to accomplish much more. Varying degrees of success aside, Wirkola proves with Dead Snow 2 that he isn't afraid of detractors, and his march towards solid entertainment continues to be as unstoppable as, well, an army of undead Nazis.
Where many filmmakers would take the cookie-cutter approach to returning to the dance that brought them, Wirkola isn't satisfied with another group going to another cabin to begin another zombie invasion. As the immediacy of Dead Snow 2's continuation promises, the story he's devised this time around elaborates on the world in which it takes place. The zombie's mission is one element, Martin's aftermath from the first film in which he's being charged for the murders of his friends as well as a newly acquired weapon with which he's been "armed" is another.
Each story progresses towards a shared endpoint. While Martin's story, in which he calls upon the aid of a US-based Zombie Squad led by, yes, the very funny Martin Starr, is full-fledged comedy, the constant cutting away to the zombie horde ripping apart communities becomes a bit repetitive. The screenplay, which Wirkola shares writing credit with lead star Hoel and Stig Frode Henriksen, takes the general conceit into some very interesting directions, not satisfied with the bite-kill-turn-repeat formula that's made the sub-genre a parody of itself. The creatures in Dead Snow 2 and the rules of its world are carefully crafted, succeeding both in finding a fresh take on the zombie film while still giving fans enough carnage cake to eat, too. It will be hard to find die-hard zombie fans who won't, excuse me, eat this shit up.
Dead Snow 2 ends up pulling off a trick with which its predecessor struggled. The build is damn-near perfect, but that shared endpoint Martin and the zombie's story are headed to outdoes everything that's come before it in the series. The final zombie showdown - of which I'll add no detail, and you will be the better for not knowing - isn't quite as massive as it should be, but given the budget constraints, it's hardly an aspect worth holding against the film. Nonetheless, Dead Snow 2's final act is an epic buffet of war-torn, zombified fun, the jokes and gore hitting with equally reckless abandon. It's the kind of enjoyment that effortlessly distracts you from how little it has working under the hood. To that, I say, "Keep on entertaining us, Tommy Wirkola. Dead Snow 2 just may damn well be your amusement park masterpiece."
Jeremy's Fantastic Fest Rating: 9 out of 10
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