Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Halloween movie month: Dead Snow

Dead Snow (2009)
Netflix, instant
Rating:  3/5

Basic plot:  A group of friends vacation in a mountain cabin, where they encounter Nazi zombies.

 This Norwegian import follows the formula for your standard "cabin in the woods" horror film (not talking about the film Cabin in the Woods, but about that genre of horror films).  A group of college students (in this case, med students) go to the mountains for a ski trip, and stay in an isolated cabin where there is no cell phone reception.  Shortly after arriving at the cabin, a mysterious old stranger shows up out of nowhere and warns them of the evil lurking in the mountains.  Dead Snow not only follows the cabin horror genre, they also acknowledge the fact that they are following the formula.  Eight minutes into the movie, one of the characters asks as they are hiking up to the cabin, "how many movies start with a group of friends on a trip to a cabin with no cell phone signal?"  The self-referencing in horror movies has started to become so common, that it is almost a horror genre in and of itself.  Thankfully, there are only a couple of scenes where a character directly makes a horror movie formula reference - so this doesn't play up too much of the self-referencing.

Playing on the horror genre actually helped to make some of the early sequences even more suspenseful.  Since you know that the cabin horror genre frequently either has something jumping out of the dark, or being there when a character turns around, you know that is eventually going to happen.  And there are a few scenes where everything is quiet, it is almost pitch black, and you think to yourself "this is where a zombie is going to jump out."  So you prepare yourself.  You are on the edge of your seat.  The tension rises.  You know it's about to happen.  And then.....nothing.  This rise in tension, without the release of a scare factor, has you even more tense the next time a similar situation occurs.  I'm not going to say how many times that happens, or what is going on when the zombie finally jumps out though.  I don't want to spoil all the suspense.

The opening chase sequence is set to the tune "In the Hall of the Mountain King," and I really like that decision.  Not only do I love the song, but the crescendo and increasing speed of the song lends itself nicely to raising tension during a chase.  It helps that "In the Hall of the Mountain King" is Norwegian and is about monsters, and whatnot.  The rest of the music, I didn't enjoy as much.  I wish that all of the songs had been classical music - I think it would have worked very well.  As far as ambient music to set the tone, this film actually relies more on silence to set the tone.

Visually, it was pretty decent.  It wasn't a major blockbuster or anything, but the production quality was actually pretty good.  The effects were realistic enough, and the actors played the roles seriously enough, that it didn't have the "cheesy, B-movie" quality to it.  And honestly, when you read a description of a movie about Nazi zombies, you kind of expect it to be in the B-movie range.  The effects of the zombies weren't very zombie-ish, but I think that might have been intentional.  There were a few things about these zombies that strayed from your typical zombie, which makes me think that maybe they were supposed to be something else.  For starters, these "zombies" moved fast.  But, there have been other zombie movies that have had fast that's not enough to think they're something different.  Beyond just being fast, these zombies have coordination.  They get into fights, like punching, rather than just grabbing/clawing/biting. Plus, these zombies bleed like they still have blood pumping through them, rather than just what is left over from when they died.  And at one point, you see the breath of one of the zombies in the cold.  It didn't look to me like it was just an oversight, or something that they couldn't edit out.  It looked to me like they were intentionally showing the zombie breathing.  There were a few other things that led me to believe that they aren't actually zombies, but I'll not spoil'll know them when you see them.

Recommendation:  Overall, it was an enjoyable zombie flick.  Even though you basically know what is going to happen, there are some good moments of tension and actual suspense, aided by the use of silence and close ups (so you can't see if anything is coming).  As with most horror movies, the tension of waiting for something to attack is more suspenseful than when the zombies are actually attacking.  But after the zombies do start attacking, there is some pretty good action.  And I like the fact that these characters actually fight back, rather than just running and screaming the entire time.  It follows the basic formula for a cabin horror story, and it does it pretty well, but there isn't really anything about it that makes it stand out above the rest.  The fact that it is foreign, and that the zombies are Nazi zombies, helps to make it a little different - but not significantly so.  Although the actors do a good job, and play their roles seriously, the characters themselves aren't really all that developed.  So you don't really have a connection to any of the characters when any of them die.  Overall, it's done pretty well, and worth seeing.  But if you are sick of the "cabin in the woods" story line (again, the genre, not the actual Cabin in the Woods film), then you can skip this one.  There isn't anything about this movie that makes it amazing or a "must see," but there also isn't really anything that makes it horrible or a "must pass."

Side note:  There are several scenes where blood and/or dirt splatters on the camera.  Sometimes that works to help you feel more immersed in the world of the movie, and sometimes it just gets in the way.  And in this case, it didn't work.  It didn't really happen often enough to completely get in the way, but it definitely was unnecessary.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next review in Halloween movie month.


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