Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead (Dod Sno 2): Sundance Review

Dead Snow Red vs Dead Sundance Film Still - H 2014

Dead Snow Red vs Dead Sundance Film Still - H 2014

Mock, schlock and two smoking barrels

Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola brings the hordes of Nazi zombies for part two of the B-movie series after his U.S. adventure "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters."

It's hard to bring back a cast for a sequel if most of the characters have been killed in part one, except if your characters are undead to begin with -- and such is the case in Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead (Dod Sno 2), a smoother sequel to the original that offers more B-movie fun and gore.

Violent Nazi zombies emerged from the Scandinavian snow to reclaim a treasure in the first feature, simply titled Dead Snow, and its writer-director, Norwegian Sami Tommy Wirkola, was offered a chance to film his screenplay Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters in Hollywood as a result. Wirkola's experiences on that project, which had a healthy $50 million to spend on filmmaking toys for boys, ensures that part two, though made on a fraction of Hunters' budget, feels more streamlined and polished -- if such words are appropriate for a film in which most of the characters walk around in rags and have selected parts of their bodies missing.

This Midnight premiere in Park City will open in Norway in a couple of weeks and wasn't, per the director, quite the finished version. It should make a rabid killing on the genre circuit.

The only survivor of the Nazi zombie attack in part one, Martin (Vegar Hoel), finds himself in trouble again from literally the minute the other film ended, with viewers unfamiliar with Dead Snow quickly brought up to speed through a quick montage of flashbacks. Though he's only got one arm (the other had been cut off with a chainsaw earlier), Martin tries to get away in a car, with a horde of Nazi zombies chasing him, including a very insistent one who manages to hang onto the speeding car's door because the window is down.

An oncoming truck on a very narrow road efficiently resolves that problem, though, in a neat twist that suggests Wirkola and his co-writers didn't just pen a quickie script. That zombie's arm is found in Martin's car, which subsequently crashes, and when he wakes up in the hospital, the doctors have sewn the Nazi zombie limb to his own stump, resulting in Hulk-like superpowers. This early sequence is the two-film series in a nutshell: cartoon violence and action, gore and humor, all rolled into one schlocky but enjoyable package.

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The film's main premise involves Martin fighting the second wave of Nazi zombies, who are still led by the indestructible Herzog (Orjan Gamst) and who have now set their sights on a town where several thousands live. In order to avoid turning its inhabitants into new zombie recruits, Martin teams up with an effeminate war museum worker, Glenn Kenneth (Stig Frode Henriksen, who co-wrote both films and starred in the first as a different character), and all three members of the U.S. Zombie Squad: Daniel (Martin Starr, from the upcoming Veronica Mars film), Blake and Monica (Ingrid Haas and Jocelyn DeBoer, both College Humor Originals alumni).

There are plenty of new ways in which zombies dispatch people and people dispatch zombies, with the inventive use of intestines, garden tools and kitchenware all recurring leitmotifs. But the only way to actually end Herzog's invasion is to wake his Nazi-era enemies -- the Soviets -- from their undead slumber for the ultimate Reds vs. Nazis battle on a manicured communal lawn in a small, contemporary Norwegian town.

With the addition of the English-speaking Zombie Squad, Wirkola seems to be aiming squarely at international audiences, though it's precisely the Norwegian elements that work best (the Nazi zombies are variations on the "draugar," the undead of Norse mythology), and some more local specificity would have made the film stand out more, rather than less, in the international market place.

The treatment of the women and the supposedly closeted Glenn Kenneth (so limp-wristed and gaudily dressed he'd make Liberace look like the butchest soldier on the planet) is also so retrograde that, even in a film that harks back to earlier genre examples and features fighting battalions from the forties, the actions and predicaments of these outdated cliche characters occasionally hamper the enjoyment of the otherwise terrific, blood-soaked proceedings.

Use of the camera and editing choices are more sophisticated than in the first film, and production values are high within the intentionally campy confines of the story.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Midnight)

Production company: Tappeluft Pictures

Cast: Martin Starr, Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen, Ingrid Haas, Orjan Gamst, Monica Haas, Jocelyn DeBoer

Director: Tommy Wirkola

Screenwriters: Tommy Wirkola, Stig Frode Henriksen, Vegar Hoel

Producers: Kjetil Omberg, Terje Stroemstad

Director of photography: Matthew Weston

Production designer: Liv Ask

Music: Christian Wibe

Costume designer: Linn Henriksen

Editor: Martin Stoltz

Sales: XYZ Films / Elle Driver

No rating, 100 minutes