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MOVIE REVIEW: Norwegian Horror Comedy “PROJECT Z” lacks bite

Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Reviews


Starring Eili Harboe, Regina Tucker and Vebjorn Enger
Written and directed by Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken
Dark Star Pictures

In PROJECT Z, a group of film students heads to the mountains of Norway to make a low-budget zombie film. Holing up at an abandoned motel, the gang of wannabe Romeros set about filming their masterpiece. But as the gang battles with difficult actors and the intricacies of location shooting, something rises from within the darkness to turn filmmaking artifice into bloody reality. 

Adding a less intentional level of irony to the proceedings, it does not seem to have bothered either set of filmmakers, those on-screen or PROJECT Z’s director, Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken, that the idea is not a new one. This horror comedy (re)treads familiar ground (the icy, isolated setting of Dead Snow, the zombie-film-within-a-zombie-film concept of One Cut of the Dead) while lacking the invention of its predecessors. 

What PROJECT Z does have going for it, from the misty, atmospheric cinematography to the unfolding carnage, is a production design that stands out from others of its ilk. The film’s use of found footage is also interesting, stitched together from the filmmakers’ cameras, FaceTime recordings and other recording devices at their disposal. Dahlsbakken also tries to do something different with his zombies, with black tentacles that emerge from the afflicted – and the clever layering of real zombies hiding behind the façade of fake zombie make-up.

The actors also do good work, particularly Eli Harboe as the film’s director and veteran actor Dennis Storhøi, sending himself up in one of the picture’s more memorable scenes. It’s slicker and sleeker than most low-budget zombie horror films but, at the same time, does little of value with its assets. 

Sadly, what little originality PROJECT Z has struggles to shine through the unmoored plotting, painstakingly slow pace and inconsistent writing. Although it skimps on both the gore and the scares, the film nonetheless commits to its movie-within-a-movie premise but doesn’t handle the switch from comedy-drama to straight-up horror convincingly. There’s a lot going on, with plenty of technique behind it. But lacking any real focus, the film’s affable aimlessness ultimately detracts from the few things it does well. 

PROJECT Z is one cut above the rest, but not by much.

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