The Snowman very desperately wants to be a cut above the average thriller. It’s based on a bestselling novel by Jo Nesbo. It’s directed by Tomas Alfredson, the acclaimed director of Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and has a star-studded cast with Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, and Charlotte Gainsbourg filling out the starring roles. Sadly, The Snowman isn’t elevated by its talent; it’s ladened by it, failing to justify the lavishness displayed in the telling of a story so remarkably unremarkable.
The setup is pure Nordic Noir pulp. Fassbender stars as Harry Hole, a brilliant but alcoholic detective in need of a case to set his mind to. Enter Katrine Bratt, Rebecca Ferguson, a new detective transferred to Oslo who becomes convinced that the recent disappearance of a married woman matches the pattern of what she believes to be a serial killer who stalks women he disapproves of. When Harry starts to receive taunting messages from the killer, he sets up a small task force to apprehend the killer before he strikes again. It’s an familiar plot, reminiscent of countless noir thrillers, police procedurals, and giallo slashers, and that’s about it. The film never takes on any meaningful second dimension and is woefully incapable of subverting the genre it feels desperately incapable of transcending.
There’s an inexplicable clunkiness to The Snowman that sucks all the tension out of the film like an uncorked drain. The investigation plods on, interrupted by narrative diversions and subplots that do little other than attempt obfuscate the films’ increasingly obvious conclusion. Perhaps the most disappointing of these subplots involves Harry’s ex-girlfriend Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who want Harry to remain a part of her son Oleg’s (Michael Yates) life; a situation that causes some tension between Harry and Rakel’s new boyfriend, Mathias (Jonas Karlsson). Harry and Matthias’s bond over a child that belongs to neither of them is complex and sinewy and, unfortunately, entirely underdeveloped.
The script by Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini, and Søren Sveistrup seems almost pathologically averse to the kind of complexity successful thrillers thrive on, choosing instead to add layers of unnecessary narrative confusion and ham-fisted misdirection. The film eagerly populates its list of suspects with characters so transparently creepy and off-putting that they essentially cross themselves off as candidates for the real killer. To put both J.K. Simmons and Toby Jones in the film as misdirection is a waste of time and talent.
Even more mystifying are the flashbacks to an earlier missing persons case investigated Detective Rafto, played by Val Kilmer, who turns in a bizarre performance that really just can’t be put into words. Kilmer is almost unrecognizable and the dozen or so lines he has are dubbed so poorly, it defies all logic. Evidently this is the result of a surgery Val Kilmer was recovering from that impeded his ability to talk. To anyone without that bit of back-story, this will just be the most insanely bad performance of Kilmer’s career.
Watching The Snowman it becomes fairly obvious that there were some production difficulties. The film has been in production since 2011 and it has clearly been a bumpy road. Still, with the embarrassment of riches The Snowman has to work with, it’s a shame Alfredson wasn’t able to pieces something more successful together.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
The Snowman is a victim of its own pedigree. With the talent involved in front of and behind the camera, this film really should not be as bad as it is. It’s a spectacular alignment of bad writing and troubled production, redeemed only by Dion Beebe’s excellent cinematography that breathes iciness into every frame. Unfortunately, even the gorgeous Nordic landscape can’t distract from what a mess this film is. If disappointment were an art form, The Snowman would be a masterpiece.