Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writer: Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini, Soren Sveistrup
Producer: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Piodor Gustafsson, Robyn Slovo
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Toby Jones, Val Kilmer, J.K. Simmons, Chloe Sevigny, Sofia Helin, Genevieve O’Reilly
An alcoholic detective connects a series of cold cases to a new string of murders where a snowman is left at each crime scene.
Whatever word of mouth you may have heard about “The Snowman” has likely been overwhelmingly negative. Scanning several ‘Top Critic’ blurbs on Rotten Tomatoes, where the tepid thriller holds only an 8% Fresh rating, one can find such unflatteringly insulting descriptions as “soul-deadening,” “inept misfire … entrancing train wreck,” and “muddled mess.”
Should you acknowledge this intangible equivalent of a ‘No Trespassing’ sign yet choose to go into the film anyway, you’re likely to skeptically wonder, as I did, “can it really be that bad?” In a word, yes. “The Snowman" really is that bad.
Norwegian detective Harry Hole (a vacant Michael Fassbender in his most unrewarding role yet) has one of those functioning alcohol addictions where his beleaguered superior would love to can Harry’s ass for going MIA due to yet another bender. Unfortunately he can’t, because Harry is of course too brilliant of an investigator to dismiss, forcing his superior to cover for him with an exasperated sigh instead.
Selfish and irresponsible, Harry also can’t maintain a real family, although he does play chronically unreliable father figure to his ex-girlfriend’s adoring son Oleg. When Harry promises to take the boy on a school camping trip, swearing he won’t screw it up this time, you wonder why the film even bothers with a subsequent scene of the bus leaving Oleg alone with slumped shoulders, since you’ve already envisioned this inevitable outcome in your mind. If only Harry was on the eve of retirement too, he could complete the Triple Crown of clichéd cop characterizations.
Harry is on the case of ‘The Snowman,’ a mysterious murderer whose victims are women married with children. Their deaths or disappearances coincide with days of fresh snowfall, and are accompanied by the appearance of a plain-faced snowman at each crime scene. Why the Frosty motif? We never find that out exactly, which is only one of innumerable unanswered questions regarding a script so tattered, the movie has no other option but to bare every problematic bone.
“The Snowman” can hardly be considered a serial killer thriller, since hiding his/her identity prevents the killer from ever becoming a featured character. Fresh murders are few and far between too, with Harry and his new partner Katrine spending more time thumbing through cold cases looking for connective clues. As a result, “The Snowman” becomes a research-heavy police procedural, and an uneventfully slow one at that.
If you’ve heard anything else about “The Snowman” aside from its dismal reviews, it was probably director Tomas Alfredson bemoaning to any interviewer who would listen that 15% of the script didn’t get shot during principal photography. This fact naturally goes a long way toward explaining why the movie feels like a patchwork quilt of unnecessary side characters, unresolved subplots, and an amnesiac main arc desperate to make some sort of narrative sense. What this doesn’t explain is why the 85% of what was filmed includes so much footage of Michael Fassbender walking, smoking, carrying grocery bags or inserts of cable car pulleys and other useless B-roll filling up a nearly two-hour runtime.
I genuinely believe the following. “The Snowman” should be taught in film schools as an easy example of poor pacing. An early sequence puts us alongside an impending victim as she travels home with ominous headlights behind her, checks her phone several times, argues with her husband, putters about some more, and eventually vanishes off camera. Such scenes barely hint at suspense and they certainly don’t tie us closer to the character or teach us much about her. Absent of rhythmic tension, the audience is unable to engage when unenergetic activity is predominately passive.
Every beige thread ends in boredom, if they go anywhere at all. Romantic heat possibly intended to bloom between Harry and Katrine never sees a single spark. Harry’s pseudo-love triangle with his ex and her new beau presents little passion, particularly in one of the limpest sex scenes ever depicted in a major motion picture. Years from now, no one will remember that notable actors like Toby Jones or J.K. Simmons are in the movie, misspent in inconsequential roles any no-name could play.
Whatever filmic adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s acclaimed novel was originally envisioned clearly didn’t come anywhere close to making it onscreen. Whether that comes down to pre-production problems involving several swaps of creative hands, production oversights that didn’t film what was needed, or post-production editing that couldn’t satisfactorily salvage what material did make it doesn’t matter. The end result remains the same, which is that there is no way to categorize “The Snowman” except as a disastrously disfigured disappointment.
Review Score: 25