James Stewart stars as a railroad man hired to secretly carry a payroll despite his suspected connections to outlaws
Anders Banke's feature debut is also the debut of the undead in Swedish cinema
In the popular imagination, Sweden may readily accommodate 1970s pop groups, mobile phones and flat-packed furniture, but vampires are less obviously at home there - which is all part of the surreal fun of Frostbite, in which a sleepy town in the northernmost regions of Sweden finds itself host to an unlikely outbreak of the undead. For like Tremors (1990), Braindead (1992), Undead (2003) and Shaun Of The Dead (2004), Anders Banke's feature debut blends the supernaturally exotic and the mundanely parochial to dark comic effect - as is perfectly crystallised by Frostbite's funniest moment, in which a vampire's attack is thwarted with, of all things, a garden gnome.
Ukraine, 1944. A German panzer division shelters in a snowbound cabin, only to discover that they are sharing it with a family of hungry vampires. Cut to present-day Sweden, and single mother Annika (Nielsen) has just moved to a dull town in Norrbotten for a hospital job where she hopes to work with the reclusive geneticist Professor Beckert (Eriksson). Annika's teenaged daughter Saga (Havnesköld) is unenthusiastic about their new life in the sticks. But when a young man shows up dead in mysterious circumstances, and Beckert's supply of highly experimental drugs accidentally finds its way to a crowded house party, this dead-end town is set to come alive for the long, long nights of the Nordic winter.
Frostbite updates the biting comic sensibility of The Lost Boys (1987) with the sort of sophisticated visual effects that vampire-lovers have come to expect since the Blade trilogy, while allowing its blood to splatter in stylistic crimson against Lappland's pure white snows. Complete with dumb cops, joyriding teens, prankster interns and, yes, talking dogs, it's all very silly, though just about knowing enough to get away with its own more glaring absurdities. Banke at times shows a real flair for direction, especially in some of the film's visual gags - one sequence in particular shows the shadow of an upraised hammer hovering over the head of an unconscious hospital patient (in a clear nod to the menacing expressionism of Murnau's 1922 classic Nosferatu), before pulling back to reveal that the shadow actually belongs to a bunch of flowers.
At other times, however, the film suffers from the same lack of direction as its small-town denizens, with set-pieces seeming to be linked one to the other in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. The fault here lies largely with the screenplay, introducing many dramatis personae, but hardly developing any of them. This is not really a terminal problem for a film that does not pretend to be much more than a sensationalist thrill-ride - but it does mean that Frostbite is more likely to be remembered as a curiosity piece (look, Swedish vampires!) than for its plot, themes and characters.
Which is a pity, for buried somewhere amidst the monstrous transformations and belly laughs is an uncomfortable critique of Sweden's much-vaunted wartime neutrality, and her current anxieties about immigration. For this is the tale of a Nazi soldier finding refuge in Sweden with surprising ease, and continuing unchecked in a eugenics programme of his own (with bloodsuckers as the new master race) - and the locals either fail to notice what's happening in their midst or else fall in line with alarming gusto. And that is where this film's teeth might have been a lot sharper.
Frostbite has plenty of bizarre laughs to match its novelty value as Sweden's first vampire movie - but it is somewhat defanged by its own lack of focus.
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