There’s this one gag in Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead that keeps popping into my mind and making me giggle even days after seeing it. The first film is a brilliant blend of camp and gross-out horror, but the sequel is above and beyond in almost every respect. There’s more humor, more outrageous gore, more zombie genre mythology and just so many more priceless moments that you’ll want to run and tell your friends about. In fact, on our way out of the screening, the group I was with couldn’t settle on a favorite one. How can you possibly choose between using a zombie body for traction to get a car out of deep snow and blowing up baby carriages?
Dead Snow 2 picks up right where the first film left off. Poor Martin (Vegar Hoel) is the only survivor of the Nazi zombie massacre, he’s just chopped off his arm and Herzog (Orjan Gamst) and his men are still after him. After crashing his getaway car amidst the panic, Martin blacks out. When he comes to, he’s actually in a hospital, and he’s got two arms again, too! The only problem is, that new arm isn’t his. The Nazi zombie commander’s severed arm was found in Martin’s car, so the doctors assumed it was his.
It’s an absolutely genius idea. You can’t have Martin running from Herzog and co. for another hour and a half, but what else are you going to do in a zombie movie sequel? Giving Martin Herzog’s arm, however, changes all of that.
The arm essentially has a mind of his own. Martin may not want to hurt anyone, but the arm certainly does and Hoel absolutely nails the dichotomy there. It feels strange breaking down a performance like this when we’re talking about a movie that’s packed to the brim with head-smashing and crude humor, but Hoel really does an exceptional job of amplifying the comedy of the whole arm-swap thing while also making the condition very believable and even somewhat grounded.
While Martin’s busy trying to deal with the repercussions of what’s happened to him, Herzog is still leading his men down the mountain and literally tearing apart everyone in his way. That’s where the Zombie Squad comes in, a group of nerdy 20-somethings still living with their parents who have trained their whole lives to fight zombies they weren’t even sure really existed – until now.
Martin Starr’s Daniel is the leader of the pack and easily the strongest character of the bunch. He’s not some meek loser who gets a chance to finally make something of himself in the final battle. He’s far more capable than that. He exhibits this charming, juvenile excitement you’d expect from a young guy who’s just killed his first zombie, but he’s also strong-willed, quick to come up with a plan and is also a surprisingly stellar fighter. His cohorts, Blake (Ingrid Haas) and Monica (Jocelyn DeBoer), however, don’t fair as well. Blake is a passable character. She’s got no layers and, unlike Daniel, never becomes more than a stereotype, but Haas has the charisma to keep her entertaining and likable enough. Monica’s a completely different story.
Monica is the resident Star Wars super fan who runs around in a shirt that says, “It’s a trap,” spitting out gratingly heavy-handed Star Wars references. The humor in Dead Snow 2 comes at a rapid-fire pace, so on the odd occasion a gag doesn’t pan out, it’s almost effortless to brush it off and move on to the next, but Monica’s jokes falls so flat, they actually make you feel bad DeBoer even had to say them and so they wind up taking you out of the movie.
Fortunately, Monica’s the only character with this problem. Dead Snow 2 has a few other underwritten ones, namely this group of cops that act like commentators, following Martin and the Zombie Squad around and assessing the damage, but they’ve got their moments and manage to earn their place through humor rather than story value.
Then we’ve got a character who’s simply called Sidekick Zombie. Kristoffer Joner deserves a shout out because Sidekick Zombie is one of the film’s most hilarious and endearing elements. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the name Sidekick Zombie does give away a little bit. Sidekick Zombie is essentially a puppy dog who’ll do absolutely anything for Martin. It is a recurring gig and one of the most memorable components of the film. Sidekick Zombie may not be cute and cuddly like the on-screen dogs or animated characters I tend to fall for, but the vomit, grotesque disfigurements and overabundance of saliva is completely overshadowed by his loyalty. I want a Sidekick Zombie of my own.
As for the new mythology, it’s big, bold and outlandish, just like the tone of the film, but it’s also an incredibly smart means of expanding the world. The first time around, it was a small group of humans versus a small group of Nazi zombies. Here, it’s an all-out war with armies, and director Tommy Wirkola doesn’t just take a bigger is better approach, do more of the same and hope it works. More zombies doesn’t just mean more nameless faces in the living dead crowd. Wirkola creates quite a few zombies who wind up becoming memorable supporting characters, either because they’re so cleverly designed or because Wirkola actually manages to give them a little backstory.
The cut of the film we saw looked a little washed out, but the shots are so well composed it didn’t matter. Wirkola and cinematographer Matthew Weston know what they’re working with here – a movie about Nazi Zombies – and they honor it from beginning to end. They don’t just create pretty pictures, but rather pretty pictures that amplify the novelty and comedy of the situation. There’s the shot of Herzog and his men strutting into the WWII museum with the Nazi flag behind them, another that tracks right through the front line of an epic battle sequence as both sides attack and another where we see the zombies assault an unsuspecting couple in a bathroom from directly overhead. The idea of having someone ambushed while on the toilet is a funny one, but what makes it so effective in the actual film is how well it’s captured and edited together.
Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead has its flaws, but for what it’s trying to achieve, it’s pretty close to being spot-on. If you’re a fan of the first film, you’ll lose your mind over the second installment. If you thought Dead Snow would be your thing but never really took to it, there’s a good shot Dead Snow 2 might do the trick. However, if obscene humor, violence targeting the handicapped and children, and outrageously grotesque imagery are not your thing, stay far away. (But you should probably just lighten up and give it a go because you’ll be missing out big time.)