Dead Snow -- Film Review

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"There is an evil presence here," the grizzled old hiker warns the hapless young people who have come to the mountains for a weekend of snowboarding and partying. What an understatement!

Evil marauders are a mainstay of horror movies, but the Nazi zombies who haunt the Norwegian woods in Tommy Wirkola's "Dead Snow" reach a whole new level of depravity. This blood-soaked melodrama -- a far cry from most foreign films -- has been a festival favorite and might well develop a cult following, though it's far too gory to reach beyond the core audience.

Wirkola does a good job setting up the elemental story: A group of university pals -- four men and three women -- arrive at a remote mountain cabin for Easter vacation. The characters are well distinguished, the actors are appealing, and the cinematography by Matt Weston makes the most of the eerie, snowbound setting. Wirkola builds tension slowly, creating an ominous mood but giving us just a few glimpses of the sinister zombies. The hiker tells the visitors of a Nazi platoon that has been haunting the remote woods since the end of World War II, but the young people dismiss the tale until a couple of their members disappear. Then the battle escalates between the desperate students and their savage tormentors.

It is at this halfway point that the movie degenerates from a spooky suspenser to a more lurid, formulaic splatter movie. It's not all that entertaining to watch the increasingly gruesome manner in which the attractive young people are dismembered and dispatched.

Another problem is that the film, like so many cheesy horror movies, never establishes a clear set of ground rules for the zombies. It seems as if they can be fairly easily destroyed by guns and chainsaws -- until the director wants them to come back to life and demonstrate their immortal powers.

The actors acquit themselves well. Film buffs especially might enjoy the character of a film nerd (Jeppe Beck Laursen) who regales the group with a list of earlier horror movies marred by serious gaps in logic. Wirkola might well realize that the same caveats could be leveled at his own movie, but he tries to rush past the many implausibilities. The superior craftsmanship helps to sustain the film until the horrific violence makes it literally unwatchable.

Opens: Friday, June 19 (IFC Films)
Cast: Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen, Charlotte Frogner, Lasse Valdal, Evy Kasseth Rosten, Jeppe Beck Laursen, Jenny Skavlan, Bjorn Sundquist
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Screenwriters: Stig Frode Henriksen, Tommy Wirkola
Producers: Tomas Evjen, Terje Stromstad
Executive producers: Harald Zwart, Espen Horn, Magne Ek, Kjetil Omberg
Director of photography: Matt Weston
Production designer: Liv Ask
Music: Christian Wibe
Costume designer: Linn Henriksen
Editor: Martin Stoltz
No MPAA rating, 91 minutes