Winter of the Dead (2005)

Ok Finland, letís give you all one more chance, though Lord knows the first two chances were totally wasted (here and here). How about a Finnish zombie movie, eh?

The backstory to Winter of the Dead is given in a pretty concise and clear voiceover, letting us know in a few heavilly-accented sentences that WWIII came a few years back and the radiation from all the nukes turned people into zombies. Not ďraised them from the deadĒ, mind you, just turned already living people into zombie-like shambling creatures who crave nothing but yummy human flesh. Some people were immune to the radiation, however, and for them itís been a daily fight for survival. Cue character intros...

Itís a very small cast, just intense, bald thirtysomething Toni and long-haired drunkard twentysomething Risto, two hard-as-nails survivors living deep in the snowy forest in adjacent hunting cabins. The zombies are running out of food and they can smell them even out here in the boonies, so they're coming, more and more every day it seems. Brains!!!

Toni (L) and Risto (R) share some hootch.

At this point, several years after it all went bad, killing zombies is just an ordinary, everyday activity little different than splitting firewood or ice fishing. The undead shamble up from everywhere and Toni and Risto just pull out a gun and shoot them (re-)dead on the spot and keep on with their daily chores. ThereĎs one great scene where the two of them are sitting in lawn chairs by the frozen lake, idly chatting about mundane things and smoking pipes, all the while gunning down a parade of zombies as they rush at them across the ice. ItĎs a surreal bit of Sean of the Dead-style comedy (our movie came out a year after that one) that is indicative of the almost-but-not-quite campy tone of Winter of the Dead.

Target practice with zombies.

So the apple cart is upset when another survivor appears, an attractive young brunette named Marika who recently escaped a zombie attack on her enclave some distance away. Toni very reluctantly takes her in on the promise that she leaves as soon as sheís able to, he doesnít want any "distractions" around when everyday is a challenge to survive as it is. They squabble, heís mean to her, she fights back, they grudgingly accept that theyíre better together than apart, and itís no surprise to anyone that something like a ďromanceĒ seeps through all the icy hard layers of Toniís emotional wall.

No one looks pretty in that hat.

The Marika character is by far the most interesting in the movie, and they managed to make her feminine and nurturing at the same time sheís gunning down zombies and hiking miles through the snow at night. Thatís a hard balance for most movies as the temptation is to either make such a character a cold-hearted killer who happens to have boobs or a weak-willed milquetoast who canít do anything without a man around (who happens to have boobs), both rather insulting and incomplete character types. Rarely do you see a decent merging of the two traits without someone ending up wearing a skin-tight leather catsuit (yes, thatís for you Underworld and The Dark Knight Rises).

Here just a nice twill sweater.

Marika also allows us the audience to learn more about Toni and Ristoís past lives before the War, as well as hers, as sheís not shy about asking gently prying questions of them. Pulling out little tuffs out at a time we get a picture of Toni as a profoundly damaged man who lost his entire family in the zombie outbreak and is now just surviving for the sake of surviving. Risto is a bit less complex, but you can tell heís hiding something painful behind those moonshine-blasted eyes. The movie never drifts over into any tearful sepia-toned flashbacks to happier days and itís refreshing to see main characters in a zombie movie that have no immediate family responsibilities to muck up the plot. If I have to see one more zombie film where the main character has to rush, machineguns blazing and machetes swinging, to save his wife and daughter from the undead Iíll puke.

Hey, how about my fever?

The very environment that the film takes place in is also a welcome change from the typical zombie-infested zones of urban sprawl and Georgia forest. Even though Dead Snow has been languishing in my Netflix queue for several years now, I canít recall any other zombie movies that take place in such winterbound conditions where the snowpack is three-feet deep everywhere and the undead struggle to thrash their way through it to get to their parka-wrapped tasty morsels. Thereís even a couple mentions of that old Reagan-era boogieman ďNuclear WinterĒ to help explain why itís so cold and icy all year long now. Spilled zombie blood also shows up well against the blinding whiteness of the snow, a nice visual touch.

Bang, you have frostbite.

Unfortunately, the ending falls apart with some hokey, ill-conceived and poorly-acted moments, but it happens so fast, like the last 3 minutes before the credits, that you can easily forget it. In fact, if you want to watch this movie for some reason, turn it off before the final zombie assault on the survivors, trust me it will make for a vastly better experience for you. To spoil it for you, as expected, as the final zombie assault begins, third wheel Risto ends up sacrificing himself to give Toni and Marika a chance to escape and start a life together. Iím ok with that (sorta) but it irked me when they kiss and hold hands in the last frame because it was totally out of character for both of them and really seemed forced. But since youíve turned the movie off by then (LIKE I TOLD YOU TO!) then you donít have to worry about that.

Girls have cooties, donít kiss them.

So in conclusion Winter of the Dead did indeed redeem the entire nation of Finland in my heart. You may carry on now, Finland, we're all good here.

The end.

Written in October 2013 by Nathan Decker.

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