We’re in the 1980s somewhere in the Norwegian forests, where the young couple Rebecca and Thomas are on a car trip. They run over a dog, and assume that the owner lives in the old victorian-styled hotel not so far away. Rebecca takes on the task to enter the hotel, which seems to be abandoned at first glance. But a horde of zombies suddenly show up, with the transsexual zombie-hotel owner itself Mor Monsen (Mother Monsen). This is not really happening, by the way, we are at the beginning of a clunky student film called “De Døde Våkner” (The Dead Awakens) and we get a series of behind-the-scenes footage that documents the film shooting, that goes from chaotic to the brink of disaster, and a showcase of how the film industry may not be as glamorous as one might think.
We meet the insecure director Julie Lundgreen with a big ego who has her script carved in stone, and is constantly in a protecting mode of “her vision” while the film’s main character, Rebecca, played by Iben Akarlie, is a feminist who tries to persuade the director to skip the scene where she has a threesome with two zombies. Nearly everyone are obviously amateurs, and gets really starstruck when they hear that the veteran Dennis Storhøi, which is one of the biggest movie stars from Norway, will play the role of the transsexual zombie. It does not take long before he starts fighting with the film crew and makes the director cry, and realizes that this is way too amateurish for a serious movie star like him, while he strongly misses the good ole’ days. So what else can go wrong here? Of course, a meteor strikes right next to the filming location, that could have been something straight from Alien, and someone is stupid enough to stick his hand in it. Not a good idea..
So what exactly is this? Drama? Comedy? Horror? All of the three, I would say, plus some turbulent relationship drama and how crazy you have to be to make a film with a low budget, little resources and zero experience. Meta-film, as it is called, although it is more in the mockumentary territory with a clear inspiration from The Blair Witch Project. The Japanese One Cut of the Dead also comes to mind even though this is a completely different beast. This is far from a traditional horror film, and in fact the first of its kind that has been made in Norway which puts it in a unique light. The monster scenes are placed in the back seat where the focus is mostly on the chaotic film-making, which may be a disappointment for some. What makes the film work so well is the dysfunctional relationship between the characters, and surprisingly good acting with dialogues and a dynamic that seem both organic and natural, while the line between fiction and reality gets somewhat unclear.
There are many fun moments here, especially the scenes where the stressed director goes into full Stanley Kubrick mode and wears out the actors with an x-number of takes till they act badly just on purpose to taunt her. And Dennis Storhøi as the more eccentric version of himself made me laugh several times. Unlike the role he plays, he seems to really have a blast in Project Z and is one of the main reasons I will re-watch this movie several times. The only thing that does not work as well, is the ending, which seemed a bit anti-climatic.
Technically, the film looks really good. It’s limited with shaky-cam, which is a plus, and the aesthetic with the victorian-like surroundings gets a lot of room to shine, thanks to steady cinematography by Oskar Dahlsbakken, the brother of the director, Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken. The older audiences will also appreciate the fact that “The Dead Awakens” segments are filmed in the old-school way at 35mm, while the documentary is shot digitally in various formats. Considering that director Dahlsbakken can make two films a year, completely independently and outside the studio system, one could expect some direct-to-DVD cheapness, but it’s surprisingly competent. And the guy seems to have a good sense of humor and the ability to mix genres without it getting muddy. So yeah, it will be interesting to see what he does next. And as we speak he is already in post-production with his next horror film titled “Possession” which seems to go in a far more serious direction. I’m already excited.
Director: Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken
Country & year: Norway, 2021
Actors: Eili Harboe, Vebjørn Enger, Iben Akerlie, Dennis Storhøi, Ole Christoffer Ertvaag, Alfred Ekker Strande, Regina Tucker, Jonis Josef, Arthur Berning, Alexandra Gjerpen, Laila Goody, Benjamin Helstad