On my second day of the Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (PiFan) in South Korea, I started my morning off with the movie that would go on to be the only entry to win one more than one award at the fest, Norway’s Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead. The horror comedy nabbed three well-deserved wins: Vigor Hoel for Best Actor, Tommy Wirkola for Best Director, and the NongHyup Citizen’s Choice Award, which is given for the entry that audience members voted as best film.
Dead Snow 2 is action packed, hilarious, and has a fair share of scares, too, and Wirkola does a masterful blend of balancing everything. The story picks up right where Dead Snow left off (I’ll avoid spoilers for both movies as much as possible — you can definitely watch this one without seeing the original entry first), as our hero Martin (Hoel) wakes up in a hospital after a car crash. The local police suspect him of killing his friends, but that isn’t the worst of his problems: he now sports a very much unwanted limb replacement that originally belonged to Colonel Herzog (Orjan Gamst), leader of the Nazi zombie horde that pursued Martin and his friends in the first outing. This time, the undead soldiers are out to complete a mission under direct orders from Hitler that they never finished: lay waste to an entire town. Determined not to let this happen, Martin joins forces with a trio of American nerds known as The Zombie Squad (Martin Starr, Jocelyn DeBoer, and Ingrid Haas) and a staff member at a local World War II museum (Stig Frode Henriksen).
The laughs are usually well-earned, including an extremely inventive and practical usage of human intestines by the zombies. The Zombie Squad’s jokes are occasionally strained, including running Star Wars gags, and though the trio sometimes borders on annoying, they eventually won me over. The cast is great, and Hoel indeed shines as a sort of Ash played as more of an action hero. There’s a great deal originality at play here. Dead Snow 2 is one of the best genre films of the year, and another chapter in this franchise would be most welcome.
Unlike Dead Snow 2, Tobe Hooper’s long-delayed Djinn — touted as the UAE’s first horror movie — is chock full of genre tropes and cliches, and offers no new elements or twists. There is a decent sense of dread throughout, but it is hampered by characters that give viewers little reason to care for them, subpar CG effects, and a heavy reliance on jump scares. Khalid Laith and Razane Jamal star as married Emirates couple Khalid and Salama, expats living in the United States; he wants to return home after their infant child dies, but she is very much against it. One cliched visit to a marriage counselor later — complete with the first of myriad horror cliches, to boot — and the couple are indeed on their way. Once at their new home in a high-rise apartment building, unusual things start happening — unusual for Khalid and Salama, that is, but known all too well by viewers who have ever seen Rosemary’s Baby or its woman-alone-in-a-house-who-sees-and-hears-things-but-no-one-believes-her cousins and more than one or two each of haunted house movies with empty rocking chairs or creepy doll faces, Asian long-haired-ghost films, and modern efforts that rely on sudden loud noises to frighten folks.
Laith and Jamal do alright as the couple in peril, but David Tully’s lackluster screenplay gives them little to work with. The film isn’t a total dud, especially if viewed as a novelty piece as the first UAE fright flick effort, or if you are curious about why it was delayed for more than two years before making recent rounds or its reported political problems and “source of cultural embarrassment” rumors. Djinnkept my attention throughout, if not for all the right reasons.
I also attended Gojira, part of PiFan’s “The Great Kaiju, Godzilla’s 60 Years” 7-film mini-retrospective. The Godzilla franchise does not hold the cultural impact here that it does in many other countries, so I was happy to see that this film sold out its online ticket allotment in less than 15 minutes. The festival’s two screenings of Gojira were both followed by presentations from Korean film scholars and writers, including a program about the movie’s musical score.