Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Frostbite – review

Directed by: Anders Banke

Release Date: 2006

Contains spoilers

This Swedish film, just released on UK DVD, is allegedly the first Swedish vampire film ever produced. If you take a look at the very slick homepage you’ll see that it gave itself a lot to live up to – and I’m pleased to say it did (EDIT: The slick homepage has now gone).

The film’s tagline is “Dawn is just a month away”, a reference to the month of night in which the film takes place. The obvious connection is with 30 days of night, which – at time of review – is in production as a feature film. However, barring a certain gore level, there is no real connection or similarity. Though the month until sun is mentioned in the movie it is actually somewhat of an irrelevance and just provides an ideal location for the nefarious goings on that leads to the film’s plot.

Rather than a simple gore-fest horror (though, as I say, this does hit fair levels of gore at times) what we have is a horror comedy with perhaps a little shade of Shaun of the Dead. The comedy veers between a wickedly black humour, through a loving look at by-gone vampire films coupled with the expectations of genre fans, all the way to the plain surreal.

You’d be forgiven, however, during the prologue for thinking that this is not a comedy. The prologue is played straight and is set on the Eastern Front, in the Ukraine, during the Second World War. A group of SS soldiers are cut off from their unit. After being pinned down and seeing many of their comrades shot, they escape into woods and find a shack. They break in and camp down, realising that the occupants must have fled as the stove is still hot.

In the night one of the soldiers realises, as the windows and doors were blocked by snow when they arrived, that the shack must still be occupied. The realisation is too late as the killing has started. We get attacks, but the details are purposefully lost in the darkness of the shack, yet several soldiers manage to get out and shots have been fired. They have to re-enter or they’ll freeze and, in the cellar, they find a coffin with the name Maria on it. Something is trying to get out of the small casket. They bury it.

In the modern day a car heads into a Lapland town, driven by Annika (Petra Neilsen) with her daughter Saga (Grete Havnesköld). Annika is a doctor and she has moved there as she wishes to work with Professor Gerhard Beckert (Carl-Åke Eriksson) – a world renowned geneticist.

Out in the town a girl wanders the street and we realise that something is following her when we see through its eyes, in a vivid orange vision. A bike nearly crashes into her. After some words the girl walks off and the vampire (for we know that is what it is, though we are still in point of view) turns its attention to the rider, pulling him from the bike. We see a clawed hand blurring across the screen – though at this stage the vampires remain hidden from our view.

The story really then splits into three parts, all interlinked. There is the story of Annika and her new job. We discover, early on, quite a bit about Beckert in this storyline. Firstly we see that he only has one patient, a coma victim, and he feeds her vividly red pills. One nice little touch was when he visits her the first time. We see him in shadow and it looks for all the world like he has a hammer and stake, but it is a flower and a vase.

We also see him take over the autopsy of the biker, who has puncture wounds on his neck. He quickly stakes the biker when alone and, in some fantastic use of effects, we see the boy vamp and then morph to normal as he dies. Before the hammer blow Beckert says “May God have mercy on your soul.” Obviously, by insisting that he takes over the autopsy and due to his having a stake to hand, he is hiding the vampirism for some reason.

The second story is that of Saga as she meets Vega (Emma Åberg) who invites her to a party and, later in the film, the party itself.

The third story follows Sebastian (Jonas Karlström) and is the source of some of the blackest and most surreal humour. Sebastian works at the hospital and steals two of Beckert’s pills. He takes one and, on his way home, his hearing becomes sharper and then he finds that dogs can talk to him – okay it sounds weird but it really is amusing, especially as the dogs say exactly what you’d expect them to.

Once home he has a terrible thirst and, whilst he can keep water down, he cannot stomach anything else. His girlfriend arrives at his home, with her dog, and the dog eats the other pill which he has dropped (there is no shown effect of the pill on the dog). She reminds him that he is to meet her parents and have dinner with them before the party.

Panicking as the pill has been eaten by the dog, for reasons – in fairness – unexplored, he breaks into the hospital and steals a load more pills. He was meant to be supplying drugs to Vega, for the party, and she takes these without his knowledge. Obviously the pills have more of a side effect than one would expect, given what has already happened to Sebastian.

He goes to dinner and the father is a priest and we see several things occurring. Firstly the touch of the priests hand burns and he is disturbed by the crosses in the apartment. When he eats a piece of garlic basted fish his mouth burns and he ends up eating the family’s pet rabbit!

In the hospital Annika is bitten by the coma patient and we get the full back-story, which ties back into the Second World War and the one ‘survivor’ of the shack – Beckert. Beckert was looking for a cure for the vampire virus but is now enhancing it, trying to cut out his weaknesses, with thoughts of world domination – the pill contains the virus and the coma patient is his guinea pig.

At the party kids are taking the new drug…

As I have said the vampirism is virus based and radically mutates DNA. Despite the pseudo-scientific background we have fairly much a supernatural entity. They are allergic to garlic, we assume sunlight is an issue, though for obvious reasons we do not see the effects, and they can be staked. They have an immense need for blood and a bite infects.

The vampires are immensely strong and have a definite need to hang around on ceilings – seriously they seem to love it. They also leap around a lot and yet the filmmakers did not go down the path of making them, suddenly, kung fu experts. They have better reactions and are stronger but they are also fallible.

The holy object aspect leads to a nice moment. We know a cross causes discomfort, the touch of a holy man burns and when the priest says grace it appears to hurt Sebastian. However, we also get a character crossing two pieces of wood. The threatened vampire points out it is in X shape and so they shift it, to no effect. No Cushing-esque crossing wood here, it has to be a holy object, presumably blessed.

The effects are excellent in the main, though a couple of bits were too obviously CGI, and it is obvious the film had some budget thrown at it. The acting is good enough for the sort of film it is, no Oscar performances but the film doesn’t need it. The three story aspects, whilst interlinked, ensure that none of the storylines become stale or over long and provided great pacing. There are, unfortunately, unanswered questions but not enough to mar the film.

There is plenty of gore, especially in connection with the party – enough to keep gore hounds happy. The great thing about the party is, again, in the fact that it is only one of several story threads. We have looked at vampire/monster invaded parties before. Side FX being the prime example. Now, whilst I liked Side FX the strength of this movie is that whilst the party is important, other things are happening as well – again, a great way of pacing.

The main aspect of the film, however, is the humour and it struck exactly the right chord with me. This is the only film I know of where you will see a vampire staked by garden gnome – and that is worth the entry fee alone. Whilst Count Yorga, Vampire had an attack on a furry pet for shock value, the attack on the rabbit was (very) blackly funny, especially when the pet dog informs Sebastian that it never liked the rabbit. You’ve also got to love cops out of their depths as we get late on in the film.

This film pushed all the right buttons for me and I think we have a cult classic on our hands. 8 out of 10.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK


OllieMugwump said...

Pretty decent black-comedy. The vampirism, as you've pointed out is rather inconsistent. For me, Emma Aberg steals the show as Vega; hope this isn't the last time she plays bloodsucker, certainly of the chirpy-goth-girl variety!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Ollie... have you noticed that all three films you recommended are now reviewed?

OllieMugwump said...

Yes I did, have you seen "Leptirica"? You can get a bootleg on ebay. It's Serbian and based on a, sadly untranslated, story "Posle Devedeset Godina/Ninety Years Later" by Milovan Glisic.

Since it's in Serbo-Croat and without subtitles, but the plot's quite simple to follow; an old mill is hauted by a vampire, the mill's long-dead builder Sava Savanovic, eventually the local boys consult the oldest woman in the village to find Savanovic's grave, by riding a horse through the long-vanished cemetery ...

There is of course a twist concerning the mill's 'new' owner 'Zivan' and his daughter Radoijka the ostensive hero Strahinja's love-interest, also there's a great Lovecraftian use of whoop-or-wills during vamp attacks.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I do actually have access to it - though I haven't yet watched it, so really should do.

It wouldn't be featured on the blog, however. I do watch no English films, without subs, but do not think it fair to review unless I can read a sub or hear a dub.

James Lyon said...

Watched it last night. A fun movie and better than most Hollywood productions.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Any movie with a staking by gnome has to be appreciated. Thanks for stopping by and the comment James