Before reading any further, please understand that you’re following a reviewer who gave Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters a positive review – not glowing, but still a fresh tomato. Why do I admit to such blasphemy? Because that’s how much I respect Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola, so now when I start gushing about Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead, you’ll have the proper background.
With that said, Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead is too much zombie-killin’ fun for one horror movie. I walked away from Dead Snow admiring Wirkola’s ability to marry genre lovin’ with a serious, graphically visual bite, and his goose-stepping sequel ups the ante in almost every way. Besides showing a twisted obsession with ripping out character’s intestines, Wirkola doesn’t hold anything back as far as “safety” may be concerned. If you thought Nazis were evil enough, these Nazi Zombies show the mercy of Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer, leaving a trail of dead Norwegians in their wake. Men, women, senior citizens, the handicapped and even children are slaughtered in a myriad of ways, each one more hilariously brutal than the last, yet there’s also a slapstick nature conveyed through numerous henchmen zombies and more outlandish characters. Wirkola tested the waters with Dead Snow, and the filmmaker now feels wholly comfortable living in a horror world where absurdity and practical effects rule with an iron fist – proving that horror CAN be fun. Like, in a totally psychotic way.
Picking up exactly where Martin’s (Vegar Hoel) hellish vacation left off, the horror appears to be over as Colonel Herzog (Ørjan Gamst) retrieves his stolen Nazi gold – except for one piece that falls out of the lone survivor’s clothes. Martin barely evades Herzog one last time, but after finding himself far from his icy tomb, the undead Nazi suddenly remembers the mission his platoon was to carry out before being ambushed and killed. With a new sense of purpose, the zombie battalion sets out with only destruction on their mind, and it’s up to Martin to stop them with the help of a very special weapon in the form of Herzog’s severed arm. Yes, in a series of mishaps, doctors attach Herzog’s zombie arm to Martin’s amputated stub, granting him powers mirroring Herzog’s own and giving the mortal a fighting chance – with the help of The Zombie Squad.
Can we first talk about how I want the Zombie Squad to be a part of every zombie movie created in the next twenty years? Comprised of Martin Starr, Jocelyn DeBoer and Ingrid Haas, these nerdy survivalist siblings are Wirkola’s way of sneaking self-referential genre comedy into Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead.
Daniel (Starr) is a man who accepts George A. Romero as his God and savior, spending countless hours preparing for an impending zombie apocalypse that will undoubtedly threaten humanity (no, really, these people exist). In Wirkola’s world Daniel ends up being right, bringing along his geeky sidekicks – the Star Wars obsessed Monica (DeBoer) and innocent school-girl-looking Blake (Haas) – calling upon their expansive memory of research, aka zombie movies. Daniel is essentially Wirkola’s own Randy (Jamie Kennedy) from Scream, giving him the ability to both appease purists and challenge typical zombie norms. Starr plays out the dreams of so many horror fans while DeBoer and Haas make zombie stomping look oh-so-good (no matter how heavily they’re “geeked” up), as all three actors are pitch-perfect horror heroes.
The Zombie Squad aren’t the only characters having fun though, as most of the film is loaded with goofy little jokes at the expense of violence, mockery and cinematic references. Hell, any film that disses European house music is aces in my book, as Martin opts to shut off Günther’s “Ding Dong Song” instead of escaping Herzog’s clutches, but a Titanic sex-scene reference while “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” blares in the background? So many moments of Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead had me cackling like a hyena, relentlessly embracing a much-appreciated “f#ck you” attitude that favors risks around every turn. It takes bravado to craft dialogue praising your own creative prowess, but Wirkola backs up such talk with a hilariously bloody zombie romp reminiscent of a delicious seven layer bar where different flavors combine to form a sweet delicacy – except these layers would be fillings like smashed brains, severed limbs and congealed blood. OK, my metaphor sounded way more tantalizing until that point.
Another tip of the hat goes to lead actor Vegar Hoel, who shows a bright transformation when thrust into his leading role in Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead. While his zombie fighting skills are up to snuff in Dead Snow, he’s since blossomed into a more complete actor. Hoel’s action chops are heightened this time around, doing a lot more stunt work as Herzog throws around Martin like a rag doll, but the actor also boasts a more commanding presence. I absolutely love his confused intensity, reacting more like a deer in headlights trying to cope with the fact that zombies are actually real monsters, knowing how crazy his rantings must sound to “normal” people. Hoel balances comedy with an unleashed ferocity that blends into a this badass zombie killer along the lines of a foreign “Ash” Williams, complete with an unfamiliar weaponized arm.
If we’re getting nitpicky, some of the comedy does fall a little short. As noted, Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead bounces around from being a hardcore zombie slaughterfest to an almost Benny Hill-like comedy gag, which can be momentarily distracting. I like my comedy with a dry wit, and at times it seems as if Wirkola is throwing a pie directly in our faces while screaming “COMEDY!” – a tonal choice that might suit other personalities more than mine. But I digress, because this is the smallest of complaints.
Zombie movies require unique visions in order to be successful, because anyone can shoot a scene where walkers chomp on gooey brains, but it takes a special movie to reinvigorate such an overplayed zombie genre. Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead is like an adrenaline needle to the heart of zombie horror movies, reigniting fading enjoyment. Wirkola’s mentality makes zombie hunting monumentally fun once again, calling upon ridiculous actions such as siphoning gas through torn-out intestines to rationalize absolutely jaw-dropping levels of wild practical gore. Seriously, there are miles of intestines ripped from shredded corpses, yet every time Wirkola reuses his favorite gag, a new method of dispatch is revealed – the continued ingenuity that keeps such a festering movie smelling like a field of roses.
Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead calls back to a time when horror movies were a dementedly riotous blast. Scares and chills are always welcome, as the reminder of being scared shitless keeps me feeling alive, but sometimes you just want to sit around with your friends and squeal with joy. Wirkola’s Nazi zombie sequel is the perfect feel-good horror movie, and quite possibly the most important movie about Nazi zombies…ever. It’s a glorious achievement that’s funnier than most mainstream comedies, with a daring sense of risk that translates into treasure-chest-level rewards. I wish I could watch Wirkola’s zombies ravage sleepy towns for hours on end, all orchestrated by Wirkola’s keen eye for both horror AND action – oh wait, did I not mention the action? Yes! Only Tommy Wirkola can turn Martin Starr into a trench-coat-clad death-dealer, highlighting his ability to deliver choreographed fight sequences stylish enough to stand out amongst the pile of Nazi limbs towering over most of the production.
Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead gives us the satisfaction of kicking Nazi ass once again, because WWII wasn’t enough if you ask me. I mean, there’s a freakin’ tank being driven by zombies, pointed directly at two mothers with baby carriages. Does Wirkola have the balls to rain artillery on the fleeing parents? I HIGHLY advise you find out.
Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead is a superbly confident splatterfest that could be some of the most fun you'll have at the movies this year. Ein! Zwei! Die...AGAIN!