The Snowman, Tomas Alfredson’s (Let the Right One In) adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s Norwegian best-seller of the same name, is an icy cold movie. Frigid to the touch, there is no spark of life to be found in this desolate frozen tundra of a film nor is there anything resembling a mere flicker of intelligence. A detective joint that cannot stand up under the slightest bit of scrutiny, this mindless slog tries to follows in the footsteps of films like Seven or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, what with its random explosions of grizzly violence and salty procedural backbone, though nothing of that sort ever comes to pass. Instead we’re victim to a mopey, faux-edgy, pseudo-gritty, sulking, snow-blasted post-mortem noir impersonating smarter, sexier, more engaging entries from the often beloved genre. To call it freezing cold garbage is only the icing on this frosty cake of shite.
Where to start with a movie as head-scratchingly bad as The Snowman? Perhaps with the fact that Michael Fassbender’s character, an introverted sour puss who drinks to the point of sleeping facedown in the snow in the middle of a busy street, is indefensibly named Harry Hole (even though this is indeed not secretly an Austin Powers movie.) Surely this is a holdover from Nesbø’s novel but you’d think that anyone backing this feature might screw up their face at the mention of a lead in a Hollywood feature with a character literally named Harry Hole. To add to the sheer embarrassment of the name, take the fact that Harry Hole gets hammered frequently throughout the film… (I mean the jokes just right themselves.)
The plot is pedestrian at best; the kind of lame duck potboiler that could maybe have worked if literally everything about how it was filmed was different. But as it’s presented, there’s no way to get involved in the least because there is no urgency to any of it, no real sense of mystery, no effort to involve the audience in even the slightest bit. Even the very first scene, one that explores the germ of killer instincts with a laugh-inducing origin story, sets up the fact that these characters are hollow, make decisions without any glint of reason and are ultimately not worth attending to in the slightest.
In what almost seems a parody of washed up detective stories, Harry Hole then wakes up from an alcohol-induced slumber in a snow-blasted children’s playground. He slumps to his office where he finds a letter signed with a snowman emblem addressed to him, having once been a hot shot gum shoe at the station house. A missing persons report later or two and a pattern of disappearing mothers surfaces, the only clues a mystery snowman left at the sign of each abduction. The rest is cable TV-worthy police procedural nothingness as the “mystery” quickly unspools into a litmus test for withstanding the crushing boredom of this tedious poser.
If it seems like there are entire scenes missing, which it 100% does, it’s because *gasp* apparently 10-15% of the film never actually got filmed, according to director Tomas Alfredson. Let that sink in for a minute. Were I to obtain 10-10% of the words in this here review, it would be a rudderless slop of gibberish. And we’re talking about a $35 million Universal picture. This means there are huge character shifts that seem to take place offscreen, massive narrative question marks left essentially unexplained and a timeline that when given even a moment of thought crumbles into total incompatible nonsense.
But even if we ignore the momentous leaps in logic and inscrutable handling of time, there is still a bounty of problems scurrying beneath the rafters. There’s inharmonious accents, with just about every actor trying out their own version of “Norwegian” to near universal failure; total tonally inconsistency, wherein certain characters go from glum to chipper without an ounce of external change; zero chemistry between any of the cast, and with a cast this diversely talented (it includes Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbough, J.K. Simmons and Toby Jones) that is a feat unto itself; gaping plot holes, from start to finish you’ll wait for the screenplay from Peter Straughan (Frank), Hossein Amini (Drive), Søren Sveistrup (The Killing) to tie things up into (at least their approximation of) a neat little bow. No bow ever comes. The level of talent in this film is astounding, from the director to the performers down to the writers, making their seismic failure so much more mystifying.
On top of that, there’s a glaringly stupid deus ex machina of an ending, a complete disregard for certain key characters and whether they live or die and a strange obsession with weirdly terrible Scandinavian techno pop that is both perplexing and distracting all at once. An out-of-left-field dry humping scene set to Christmas music is just the cherry on top of all these bizarre affairs because at that point we’ve already thrown our hands up in awe so many times that there are literally no more fucks to be given (as unfortunately for some is also the case with the aforementioned dry humping.)
Amazingly, with everything that appears to be missing, too many of the scenes that do make final cut seem entirely unnecessary to the plot in that they lead to nothing or just seem to divert focus for the sake of setting up feckless red herrings. Also there’s a father-son bonding subplot in there that mostly involves Harry Hole (tee-hee) totally dicking over about his bastard (as in illegitimate) of an ex-stepson. Oh and the killer is apparently triggered by “the falling snow”. I mean you just can’t make this shit up.
Perhaps the biggest mystery of all is Val Kilmer, whose appearance in The Snowman makes for one of the most all around odd supplements to a movie I can think of. Why does it look like he shot his scenes the day after a botched facelift? And what is with the visible disconnect with his lips and words? Was he actually dubbed over? Is it even his voice doing the dubbing? And if he was dubbed (which he very clearly is) is it because he tried a Norwegian accent and it was so bad that it had to be redone in post? Unlike with anything else in the film, I was spellbound by this mystery, attempting to untangle its far reach implications. For once in this fetid arctic mystery, I was curious.
The only thing keeping me from giving this the dreaded F is the fact that it does have some striking cinematography and a good few inspired shots, in addition to offering a handful of gruesome moments that gave the horror junkie in me a reprieve from the unequivocally awful story at play. A lot of the performances are half-decent even if the characters themselves are bitter, empty and shift entirely with the changing of the winter winds. When taken as a symphony though, The Snowman is an indisputable hypothermic fuck up, a stormy cacophony of increasingly worse decisions that coalesce into one of the year’s most unforgivable and unexplainable failures.
CONCLUSION: A frigid disaster of a serial killer thriller, ‘The Snowman’ does just about everything wrong. Pulling from a frightfully terrible script and featuring enough tangled squalls of logic to cause an unfixable narrative blizzard, this Norwegian cold case is best left forever unopened.