Written by: Stig Frode Henriksen, Vegar Hoel, and Tommy Wirkola
Directed by: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Vegar Hoel, Řrjan Gamst, and Martin Starr
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
The sequel you did Nazi coming.
My natural impulse is to regard Tommy Wirkola’s decision to helm Dead Snow 2 as a safe retreat after what must have been a somewhat frustrating experience with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, his disappointing American debut that was delayed by a lengthy post-production process. On the other hand, it does take some guts (okay, lots of guts, preferably disemboweled) to raise the undead again for yet another Nazi Zombie romp (raise your hand if you ever thought you’d tire of that). As such, it’s more of a commendable decision on some levels, especially since Dead Snow 2 actually delivers and even manages to outrun my current zombie fatigue.
But just barely. Don’t get me wrong: if Dead Snow was Wirkola’s love letter to the early splatterfests of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, then this sequel is like a really elaborate post-script. It’s more of the same done on a grander, more expansive scale—it’s just that you’re often left wondering how essential it is since Wirkola’s previous statement was pretty definitive. After a quick recap of the original (shades of Evil Dead 2, naturally), Red vs. Dead picks up immediately after those events, with lone survivor Martin (Vegar Hoel) in the hospital and handcuffed when police suspect he just butchered his friends (note to self: a Nazi Zombie outbreak is not a viable alibi). Meanwhile, Colonel Herzog (Orjan Gamst) continues to be an undead thorn in Martin’s side, as he raises a zombie battalion in order to carry out Hitler’s decades-old order to raze a nearby town.
With the wider scope comes more impressive carnage, which is quite a feat considering how much its predecessor gleefully spread splatter by the truckloads. You could perhaps point to the more complex storyline--which weaves in a team of American zombie hunters, a clueless local police force, and a duel between Martin and Herzog’s undead armies—as evidence of Wirkola’s increased ambition, but it often feels like this just provides a bigger staging ground for more outrageous gore sequences. The early-going especially moves at a breakneck pace, as the narrative roves from one locale to the next to capture both Martin and Herzog raising all sorts of hell and dismembering just about everything in their path. Yes, even Martin—thanks to a botched surgery, he’s been outfitted with Herzog’s dismembered arm, which proves to be an uncooperative appendage (more shades of Evil Dead 2, as if it really needed any more).
For Wirkola, this is both an avenue for pitch black humor and even more gore-soaked mayhem. Dead Snow 2 is at its best when it breathlessly plays to these strengths, particularly the latter—once again, the splatter effects are incredibly on point. Zombie films might be exhausted at this point, but I doubt Wirkola will hear any of that—something tells me that he’ll never tire of conjuring up sequences where the undead chew and claw their way through helpless victims. To say that these sequences represent the high points of the film probably isn’t criticism so much as it’s confirming the obvious, but the film’s unhinged commitment to delivering those expectations is commendable. Dead Snow 2 has a tall task in convincing jaded audiences that there’s still something awe-inspiring about seeing someone’s guts ripped out (so long as it’s still gooey and practical, of course), and it tackles it pretty admirably. Even though my zombie fatigue level hit critical mass some time ago, Wirkola’s skill and verve are undeniable. He proves the old adage that something doesn’t have to be fresh to be effective—it just needs to be well done.
Wirkola has more troubling outpacing some of the other familiar elements, namely the comedic trappings and the self-reflexivity. Most of the humor aims for the most obvious stuff, including the insinuation that one character is a closeted gay man. Actual wit is pretty sparse, and even all the winks and nods are pretty tired; in 2014, it’s just not as cool to watch people sit around and drop Star Wars references, I guess. That said, the Star Wars devotee is among one of the best characters in the film; along with her fellow zombie hunters, motor-mouthed Monica (Jocelyn DeBoer) is a bubbly, energetic presence that gives the film an amiable center. Without her to center things, the film would likely be more exhausting and perhaps even border on irritating—most of the other characters (including Martin) are duds, and the film moves at such a whiplash pace that they become sort of incidental anyway. Its epilogue might (literally) climax with a nice character moment, but in many ways, the sheer mayhem on display is a character unto itself (to wit: the climactic battle between two undead armies is bonkers).
That’s a reflection of Wirkola, who continues to at least prove himself to be one of the genre’s most promising talents. While he often carries himself as among the latest in a long line of reverent fanboy directors, he never quite veers all the way into sheer irreverence. There’s something infectious about his filmmaking that transcends the inherent limitations of his projects, be it the overly familiar trappings of Dead Snow or the sheer absurdity of Hansel and Gretel. The good news is that I don’t even think we’ve seen the best he’ll eventually have to offer. Maybe Dead Snow 2 is a bit of a lateral move, but it’s rarely a dull one, and Wirkola’s refusal to just churn out a sequel counts for something.
A favorite at its various festival stops during the past year, Red vs. Dead has now arrived on home video for the rest of the world to indulge its gruesome pleasures. Well Go’s Blu-ray release features a fine presentation, with the high-def transfer proving to be notably crisp translation of the film’s already sleek aesthetic. Wirkola provides a commentary in addition to an effects featurette, a short film, comic book, the film’s trailer, and the international version of the film with both Norwegian and French language options (plus English subtitles). It didn’t take long for the first Dead Snow to solidify as a cult classic, and I suspect this sequel will follow suit; in a world overrun with the undead, Wirkola’s duo has separated itself from the pack. That almost feels like defying the odds—so much so that I’m not sure if he needs to go for the hat trick. Buy it!
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