I’m not going to pretend to have a vast knowledge of the Austrian horror movie scene and, until this film, I just assumed it existed rather than had proof it was there. So I was a bit surprised that writer-director Dominik Hartl made the first-ever Austrian zombie film, and decided to give it a try.
The story follows two main paths at the start, which are the setup for the apocalypse and the introduction of the point-of-view characters were going to see it from. The first is the more fun one and involves some green gunk being added to the air, via a snow cannon, to make artificial snow. A couple of key questions are left unanswered (“how do cloud-seeding chemicals bring back the dead?” and “why isn’t the snow glowing green?”) but you’ll be too busy chuckling at slapstickery and the patient Zero being called Chekov.
Meanwhile, very far from my heart, there is the tale of Steve (Laurie Calvert), who is a prat, and Branka (Gabriela Macrinkova), who has no reason not to feed him to the horde. Steve is on his last chance with his agent, but his agent is the kind of arse who doesn’t tell him he’s about to snowboard down a hill as part of a Make-A-Wish event.
Conveniently, this frankly baffling oversight results in him finishing the run naked (presumably he stopped to strip down just before the end, as we watch him go all the way down the hill with clothes on), getting fired and then sulking in the hut where Chekov gives in to he supernaturally famished state.
You’ll forgive this contrivance though, as the hut is a bar run by Rita and she’d played by Margarete Tiesel who outright steals the show. She brings comedic timing and charm to a straightforward role, and a level of humanising dumbness and pettiness that enhances it ten-fold. She also kicks arse, as do most of the POV characters, once the contrivance and mild humour of the set-up gives way to the relatively straightforward, but pleasantly comedy-gore loaded, “oh no, zombies!” panic run. This has high energy and a spirited visual style, sufficient main characters for you to not know who’s dying next, a bunch of wry humour, and a couple of twists on the usual mythos to keep it exciting and, importantly, funny.
One thing to note is that the film has English and German dialogue in it, but it doesn’t have subtitles baked into it. This results in various, substantial scenes of “the locals” talking to each other as they would, where English monolinguists who haven’t put subtitles on for the whole film are going to be left out. It works very well in moments where the English speakers in the film would also be out of the loop, and a lot of the time you can work out what’s happening anyway, but I can’t help but think I missed some really good lines as a result.
Things get ropey in the final act, not because there is anything overtly wrong with the plot but because of the determination to show as much snowboarder-vs-zombie violence as possible; and snowboards just don’t work that way! Obviously, once you have the dead wandering around the Laws Of Nature have, to some extent, done one, and there is nothing wrong per-se with creative destruction. But there are so many variations of the same attacks with mounting levels of improbability that it gets long in the tooth and that’s a bad thing in a zippy horror romp. Hartl should have picked the best three gags of that bunch and then thrown in some other makeshift weapons for the humans to use. Instead, it’s the edge of the snowboard to different bits of the body again and again and again.
The important thing is that it’s 78 minutes long and knows what it’s trying to achieve: a bit of localised & location-based novelty for a well-explored concept. You need the intro to establish the stakes, you need the ending to tidy things up, and you want the middle to be filled with other people’s guts splayed out in a variety of amusing manners. It doesn’t do anything to move or expand the genre, except making the “hero” a total bell-end, and it doesn’t set out to be especially rewatchable. This is fast, entertaining, muck about stuff and on those grounds it’s a sure-fire Treasure with just enough restraint to give it crossover appeal for people more used to mainstream giggles. I’ve no clue if it’s especially Austrian, either as a comedy or a horror, but it did a good enough job to make me interested in seeing more from that part of the B-movie world.