J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sundance ’14: Dead Snow; Red vs. Dead

It turns out that old “fight fire with fire” idiom also applies to zombie uprisings.  The National Socialist zombies are back and they are on the march in Tommy Wirkola’s Dead Snow; Red vs. Dead (trailer here), which screens during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

If you forgot the intricate plot of Snow 1, Snow 2 is considerate enough to bring us all back to speed. Martin was the only one who survived when an army of Nazi zombies attacked his friends’ ski lodge.  However, he did not make a clean getaway.  A few days later, he wakes up in hospital, finding himself an accused mass murderer, with the arm of the undead Standartenfuhrer Herzog mistakenly grafted in place of the arm he self-amputated Evil Dead-style.   To make matters worse, his new limb seems to have a homicidal mind of his own, further reinforcing everyone’s erroneous assumptions. At least it comes in handy during his escape.

Eventually teaming up with three American zombie hunters and a goth kid working at a provincial WWII museum, Martin hatches a daring plan to stop the Herzog’s zombies before they can fulfill their final orders: the mass execution of a defiant coastal town. Thanks to his zombie augmented arm, Martin can raise his own loyal zombie minions, so he heads into the mountains in search of the mass grave entombing Herzog’s Russian nemesis and his Red Army troops. That actually sounds like a workable plan, right?

With R vs. D, Wirkola proves there is still some life left in the Norwegian Nazi zombie genre after all.  Frankly, part two far exceeds the original.  While the first film was content to coast on the novelty of its premise, largely staging a conventional zombie siege, Wirkola’s follow-up more fully capitalizes on the possibilities of such a distinctive zombie apocalypse.  Opening the film up to the wider world also raises the stakes and the body count dramatically.

There are some big gory laughs in R vs. D and some clever hat-tips for fans. In fact, some of the bits might even break new zombie ground. Vegar Hoel is pitch perfect as Martin, the conscience-stricken zombie hunter.  Jocelyn DeBoer and Ingrid Haas also bring a blast of energy to the proceedings as Zombie Squad members constantly arguing the age old question: Star Wars vs. Star Trek. They should make geeks very happy indeed.

Clearly, R vs. D has all the elements to be the feel-good hit of the year or at least the Little Miss Sunshine of this year’s Sundance.  It is truly a triumph of the human spirit, with plenty of flying body parts as an added bonus. It is probably safe to say Thomas Edison invented moving pictures precisely so the world would have films like this. Highly recommended for zombie fans (considerably more than its predecessor), Dead Snow; Red vs. Dead screens again tonight (1/22) in Park City and this Friday (1/24) in Salt Lake as part of the Sundance Film Festival.

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