Juggling laughs with gasps is a difficult proposition to pull off, as evidenced by "Dead Snow." A Norwegian zombie film directed by Tommy Wirkola, the picture gets off to a spooky, oddball start with a stalking prologue set to the playfully devious tune of Edvard Grieg's prolific "In the Hall of the Mountain King." The picture, for all of its proceeding over-the-top blood and guts, never can quite match this opening scene in terms of originality and inspiration. The rest of it is pretty standard, by-the-numbers fare, aided only by some attractive, snow-blanketed cinematography by Matthew Weston.
Early in "Dead Snow," genre buff Erlend (Jeppe Laursen) poses a sensible question: "How many horror movies start with a group of friends staying somewhere without cell phone reception?" Their cells may not work, but that doesn't stop Erlend and his co-ed college pals from traveling for the Easter holiday to an isolated cabin located in prime ski spot Øksfjord. On their first night there, they are visited by a jabbering wanderer (Bjørn Sundquist) who provides them with obligatory exposition about a German WWII soldier named Herzog (Ørjan Garnst) who, along with his men, froze to death on this very mountain. No sooner has the wanderer left when the undead Herzog and his corpsy battalion pop up to terrorize the lot of them. There is also a plot point involving a box of valuable gold coins that Herzog is after, but it is minimal in importance next to the doomed protags' fruitless fight for survival.
"Dead Snow" adopts a similar scary-cum-funny tone to 2009's "Drag Me to Hell
" and 2007's "Black Sheep," but isn't nearly as successful as those two efforts. The film is not serious enough about its frights to earn them, and yet doesn't try hard enough to get laughs, either. Director Tommy Wirkola doesn't bother to explain why or how the Nazi zombies have returned from their icy graves, and also pays little interest to his human players, who are given no more than one or two distinguishing character traits. Erlend is the movie buff. Vegard (Lasse Valdal) is the handsome one whose missing-in-action girlfriend, Sara (Ane Dahl Torp), owns the cabin. Hanna (Charlotte Frogner) is the dreadlocked one. Chris (Jenny Skavlan) is the kinky one who awkwardly makes a move on Erlend while he sits and does his business in the outhouse. The other three are pretty interchangeable. It is difficult to be invested when they are being literally ripped apart, falling off cliffs, and, in one macabre moment, stitching up their own slashed throat, since none of them are developed enough to care about.
The production values are high in "Dead Snow," with the snowy, rocky location shooting proving to be something not often seen in the zombie genre. It is a shame, then, that the rest of the film doesn't match its aesthetics. The film offers no surprises, no underlying themes to think about, no characters to get wrapped up in, and little energy as it goes through the repetitive stalk-and-slash paces. Some of the best modern horror filmsthe majority of them, reallyhave recently been foreign imports that haven't gotten the distribution or recognition they deserve. "Dead Snow" isn't one of them. Besides its setting, it is so generic it might as well have been shot by a soulless Hollywood studio.