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Friday, July 31, 2009

Undead By Numbers: Dead Snow

From the time that the very first previews for Død Snø popped up, there was never any doubt that the citizens of the Painful Acres would be taking in a film. We very nearly missed it at the Music Box Theatre, but not even our short attention spans could undermine our resolve, thanks to the fact that the run was extended, and off we went Wednesday night.

I know that you're all thinking "Of course that's what she was going to say!", but it's good! Wait! Shane! Come back! Mother wants you! I know she does!


No, seriously, it's good.

It's good as a zombie movie: Gross, but not too gross. Funny, but not too self-consciously funny. Filled with surprising moments and suspenseful moments in good balance with one another. (And if one is looking for further evidence that Tommy Wirkola has studied his Hitchcock, I'd swear that there's a scene or two where hand props are oversized.)

It's good as an homage to the horror genre, generally speaking, and to the zombie subgenre, something that is not easy to do. One character is a movie buff, and Wirkola and co-writer Stig Frode Henriksen (who also stars) lightly sprinkle the dialogue with references to other genre classics. There's very little that's unexpected as the plot unfolds, but Wirkola is very good at including shots or sequences so typical of the genre as to be mandated, and still making his own mark on them.

It's good as a movie, period. All the cast members are good, and there's no one in particular that you'd like to see chomped immediately. The screenplay is structurally successful. It starts with zombies. It ends with zombies. It capitalizes on the genre very well by having 99% of the exposition confined to "Monologue by Mysterious Stranger in Act II" (in this case delivered by Bjørn Sundquist, aka the Norwegian Harvey Keitel). And it moves along at a good clip, running just 90 minutes. It's filmed with considerable technical skill (no heavy-handed irony about inept filming techniques or subpar equipment), and it has considerable style.

For example, the opening sequence involves an outdoor chase through a snowy mountain forest. It's set to "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Peer Gynt: Not exactly a bold and new choice for horror music, right? But it's deployed in a really effective way. The music drops out entirely in midsequence, then returns, reaching its crescendo as the chase comes to its expected conclusion. Visually, we've been given the briefest of glimpses of the zombies, and even briefer peeks at a character that hardly appears at all, but who is nonetheless important to the plot. All we see of her unfortunate end, really, is bare, winter-blackened branches shaking wildly, but it's somehow a perfect distillation of the sex and violence mash-up that is the horror genre.

Certainly there are excesses and bits of silliness. As the ZK pointed out, someone seems to have gotten a bulk discount on pig intestines, and I was wondering what it is about this particular species of Norwegian tree that makes it crave entrails. In an otherwise pretty solid screenplay, Wirkola and Henriksen are perhaps a bit too casual about the plot mechanism driving the zombies. Toward the end, they also might veer slightly over the line into heavy-handed hilarity (then again, it's handled admirably by the actors).

So don't listen to Ebert and those other cranky butts. Many disembodied thumbs up!

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