Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dead Snow

Y'know, I'm a big believer in the notion that horror fiction, at its best, can hold up a dark mirror to ourselves and show us our cultural anxieties. Maybe this is a lofty notion for a genre that gives us boobs and blood by the bucketloads, but I do think we invest ourselves into our fears, and rich fruit can grow from that loamy soil. Sometimes, of course, we can go too far and look too deeply into specific works and trends. I've read essay after essay on 9/11 and zombies, 9/11 and torture porn, 9/11 and the new slasher until I can't watch some woman running away from a masked madman without first trying to figure out What It All Means.

But I digress. Sometimes a maniac is just a maniac.


All this stuff about culture and fear applies abroad, too. I love watching foreign horror films. It's a window into another culture, using tools and tropes I'm familiar with. Japanese horror is different from French horror, which is different from Spanish horror and so on. But what if a movie relies so much on American genre tropes that it's essentially interchangeable with stuff we make here?

Don't get me wrong, I liked Dead Snow. It was a trim, tidy little gorefest with amusing writing and beautiful cinematography of the snow covered Norwegian countryside. But it was essentially the exact same as one of our genre flicks. The kids banter in the same way they do here, the requisite creepy old guy gives the requisite warning, people go missing, the requisite jokey self-aware horror movie nut, zombies go a'ripping up their victims, etc. They even steal the tool shed scene straight from Evil Dead 2 and the emergence from The Descent. These guys really aren't trying to break the mold or do anything particularly new, and so I'm left to wonder if this is a case of a movie that would have been trashed on here, but is getting praise because its an independent film from abroad.

The only thing that really stood out for me were the Nazi Zombies.

The monsters in this movie aren't the mindlessly charging zombies of post-28 Days Later Running Zombie fame. Sure, they're trying to eat your flesh, but they are clearly fully cognisant and act like the military unit they were in life. There's something terribly menacing about their level of organized cruelty that goes beyond typical mindless zombies mayhem. Being dead essentially made the Colonel Herzog's unit better Nazis.

If I were to apply my fakeademic lenses to the movie, I'd say that the way Dead Snow portrays their villains is probably symbolic of how the memory of Nazism still haunts the people of Europe today. To us, Nazis are easy Call of Duty-style villains. We had to go Over There to fight them. They weren't living among us, brutalizing and robbing our people. They're not gonna have the same cultural impact that they'll have to the people they occupied and oppressed. It seems perfectly natural that a Norwegian crew would make a film demonizing Nazis. The reality was pretty fucking demonic, too.

It's also pretty interesting how much our pop culture influences the rest of the world. The characters constantly name-drop movie titles, slang (watch one dude call another dude "mothafucka" during a snowball fight), and even bad Governator impersonations over the course of the movie. At one point the characters are playing Twister and one remarks that the only reason they like the game is because Hollywood tells them it's fun. I live in America and I'm immersed in our pop culture, but it's amazing to see how deep our imports sink.

As to the rest, I liked the movie's sense of humor. I'm generally turned off by movies that try to blunt the edge of their horror with comedy, but Dead Snow was such a popcorn film that the humor made it more likable, particularly the hilarious Molotov cocktail scene. I also liked the chilling, dreamlike POV scene of the girl getting eaten alive. Gory deaths are staple for the genre, but that was a particularly effective and creepy piece of work. Finally, I thought the characters, though cut from pretty cliched cloth, were all really likable and engaging. Having said that, who volunteers to have sex on an outhouse toilet?

So, yeah, go see it. You'll earn points for watching an indie foreign film, and you're pretty much getting the same thing you've seen a thousand times before. Here's the Io9 review and a snarkier review from my favorite pretentious asses over at pajiba.

Oh, and the movie had a twist ending involving a mislaid coin. If I see it one more time, it's officially a trend.

No comments: