Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead - Collector's Edition
Well Go USA // R // $34.98 // December 9, 2014
Review by Tyler Foster | posted December 9, 2014
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It might sound like hipsterism to say that the mainstream public embracing something nerdy means it's likely to lose its luster, but it's less about bandwagoning as it is about the increased likelihood that newcomers (both creators and audiences) not understanding the history of those subjects. For instance, zombies became very popular in the early 2000s, but the George A. Romero films that popularized (and even birthed, depending on who you talk to) the creatures aren't really about zombies, they're just using zombies to make points about something else. The result is a bunch of generic movies and television shows that just have zombies because zombies are popular, without any understanding of how to make them interesting. The laziest of these cheats is to make a horror comedy instead of a horror movie, especially if the humor lies more in spoofing convention rather than crafting funny characters.

Dead Snow looked like one of those lazy movies, where the whole joke was "...but they're also Nazis!" The trailer for Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead basically promises an entirely different movie, opening up from a single isolated location to an entire countryside, where massive armies of zombies fight one another, and a tank rolls around wreaking havoc. It also introduces the idea that Martin (Vegar Hoel), the sole survivor of the original Dead Snow, wakes up in the hospital to unfortunate news: the doctors have reattached the arm they found with him in the car he rolled over while escaping. The surgery was a success, but the arm belongs not to Martin, but Herzog (Orjan Gamst), the leader of the Nazi zombies. Despite the fact that Martin returned the gold Herzog's unit was hunting in the first film, now they're hunting the entire city of Talvik, their mission before they were killed. To save the city, Martin calls upon an American trio (Martin Starr, Ingrid Haas, Jocelyn DeBoer) known as the Zombie Squad to help him raise an army of his own.

If there's one unassailable virtue of Dead Snow 2, it's that director / co-writer Tommy Wirkola and co-writers Hoel and Stig Frode Henriksen pull no punches. Dead Snow 2 has no hesitation about unleashing gory, splatter-filled mayhem at any opportunity, smashing the skulls of children, the elderly, and everyone in between. They take particular glee in finding new and gruesome ways to dispatch bystanders, many of which involve the length and flexibility of intestines. Violence is often sudden and thorough, with multiple zombie soldiers descending on a single person, knives in hand, smashing another random person to a bloody pulp. The filmmakers also find time to punish the movie's heroes as well. Martin survives a number of physical and mental ordeals, including an energetic fistfight inside a small house, and abuse is heaped upon the first person he accidentally raises from the dead with his new zombie arm (Kristoffer Joner, credited as Sidekick Zombie) in quantities that would make Sam Raimi clap with delight.

Yes, Martin's arm gives him the power to bring the dead back to life under his control, part of the film's other pleasing innovation. Wirkola's zombies have a bit of unique flair to them, having been cursed rather than infected. There's no particular reason to aim for the head, and a bite won't turn anyone into a zombie. Instead, Herzog (and now Martin) raise the dead by touching a corpse or smashing their fist into the ground, which prompts some sort of magic to spread through the earth, awakening the deceased as subservient followers. The "rules" are not very well defined and sometimes contradictory (given how many times Martin raises Sidekick Zombie, there shouldn't be any reason they have to worry about numbers dwindling in the film's big closing battle sequence, and the arm acting against Martin's wishes is very inconsistent), but at least the filmmakers tried to get away from tired cliches.

Unfortunately, neither of these elements can save the film from being surprisingly sloppy, falling into that "zombies over characters" trap. The Zombie Squad itself feels like a half-written joke, a trio of goofy American nerds who quote Star Wars and have never even seen a real zombie, but there's not much of an arc, with the characters successfully turning into badasses without any training whatsoever. Martin has little motivation other than wanting the zombie apocalypse to end, and almost no recognizable personality traits. Things don't improve outside of our heroes, either: the story relies heavily on convenience and coincidence in connecting Martin to the Zombie Squad, in how the characters understand zombie powers, and in getting everyone from one place to another. The film is meant to feel like an epic, but the core story feels small, because the degree of time spent on some scenes and tasks vs. others is wildly unbalanced. Other comedy feels piped in from elsewhere (including a bumbling local cop played by Hallvard Holmen who serves no relevant purpose), and although the aplomb of of the action sequences is appreciated, the lack of tonal nuance in them is not. They're all pitched up to 11, until it just becomes repetitive. For every bit of wit, Dead Snow 2 settles for three easy gags, resulting in a film that's too in love with the sound of its own squelching.

The Blu-ray
Well Go USA does good by Dead Snow 2 with a very nice slipcovered package. The cover features the image of a zombie head resting inside a soldier's helmet, lying in the snow. What really makes it look nice is the use of red foil highlights, for the "Collector's Edition" banner across the top, for the foil symbol surrounding the "2", for "Red" and "Dead" in the title, and carrying around the back, covering the entire spine and finishing on a strip that lists the extras, with a bit of additional foil on the back for critic quotes. There is also some raised spot gloss on both sides, and the rest is a slightly rubbery matte finish. I'm no slipcover nerd, but this looks really nice. Mostly identical art is featured on the sleeve and the disc comes in an eco-friendly Vortex Blu-ray case.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 1080p AVC, Dead Snow 2 is one of Well Go's stronger efforts. I'm starting to think the studio's trouble with banding must have more to do with the companies providing them materials, because this film's quibbles are different. For the most part, the image looks good, holding up well in near constant low light situations. Colors are muted but seemingly intentionally. There does seem to be a bit of uneven crush during the early sequences, and a hint of banding can still be spotted from time to time, but the picture features incredible fine detail in close-ups and well-lit sequences.

Sound is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. According to IMDb, the original film was in Norwegian, but the version presented here is non-dubbed English (although, more on this in the bonus features). It's a strong sound mix, capturing a lot of supernatural zombie mayhem with impressive immersion, although there are times when the mix can seem more loud than nuanced. Dialogue can be a touch quiet, but there's plenty of squishing and squelching to go around. A Dolby Digital 2.0 mix and English subtitles are provided, which for some reason include the German spoken by the zombies, in German, perhaps to emphasize to the viewer that English-speaking viewers are not supposed to understand what they're saying.

The Extras
The reason Dead Snow 2 is presented in English is because a number of scenes were actually shot in both Norwegian and English. The "big" bonus feature on this Collector's Edition is the Norwegian-language version, found under the extras as Dod Sno 2 (1:40:54, 2.39:1 1080p AVC HD, Norwegian and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks). That said, this is more of a bonus on paper (or packaging) than it is in reality. Anything involving the American actors is still in English, and any shots of action with nobody visibly speaking appear to be identical, meaning roughly only a third of the film is any different. Worth a look for hardcore fans only.

An audio commentary with director / co-writer Tommy Wirkola and co-writer / actor Stig Frode Henriksen (Glenn) is included on the American version of the film. This is a casual, jokey chat that provides a general overview of production as the track progresses, in between specific anecdotes based on what's on screen. Both frequently point out their friends in bit parts, cameos for the Norwegian audience, and crack a bunch of puns and lewd humor, especially Henriksen ("I was originally going to be named 'Stig Heil.'"). "Sean Connery" and "Michael Caine" also pop up, and one other bit player also pops into the booth for a few minutes. Surprisingly, little to nothing is made of the dual-language production. A pretty good track, the only drawback being the numerous pauses in the conversation, including a couple of times where Wirkola stops to text someone.

Video extras include a short film called Armen (13:59, HD). This is a comic adventure about a character who ends up with a similar affliction as the lead in Dead Snow 2, although other than that and being Norwegian there seems to be no direct connection. It's amusing and has great effects, but is absolutely destroyed by the awful interlacing that plagues its presentation -- it's so severe the short seems almost abstract. A short VFX featurette (1:53, HD) illustrates the surprising amount of compositing work that went into the movie while a lively song plays. The bonuses conclude with a Dead Snow comic book (2:16, HD), which is not presented very well on the disc and would have been better as an insert.

Trailers for The Zero Theorem, Child of God, and Rigor Mortis play before the main menu. An original US theatrical trailer for Dead Snow 2 is also included.

Fans of the original Dead Snow will probably enjoy this bigger and better outing, and it's likable overall, a film the viewer roots for to be better than it is. Unfortunately, it never quite achieves the level of inspiration that it wants to. Insert zombie pun here. Rent it.

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