UK Release Date: 13th October 2017
Runtime: 119 minutes
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writer: Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan, Søren Sveistrup
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, JK Simmons, Val Kilmer, James D’Arcy, Jonas Karlsson, Chloë Sevigny
Synopsis: An alcoholic detective and a new recruit to the Oslo Police work together to investigate a string of murders, where the killer leaves ominous-looking snowmen at the scene.
Once upon a time, The Snowman was designated as a potential franchise starter. Scandi crime writer Jo Nesbø has penned 11 novels about Norwegian detective Harry Hole and, with Michael Fassbender leading a cast directed by acclaimed helmsman Tomas Alfredson, the signs were good. The resulting film, however, is a fascinating disaster. Since it hit cinemas, it has been brutally panned by critics and has inspired numerous post mortem pieces, discussing the myriad reasons why the project went quite as wrong as it did. This is a case where the behind the scenes tale is almost certainly better than what has ended up on the screen.
Hard-drinking cop Harry Hole (Fassbender) is in search of a case when new recruit Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) alerts him to a selection of cold cases that bear a shocking resemblance to murders happening in Oslo. In each case, the victim is a woman and the killer leaves a snowman at the scene of the crime. Harry investigates the cases, which seem to be linked to philanthropist Arve Støp (JK Simmons) and a dead detective (Val Kilmer), but leads keep turning cold as he begins to close the net.
It’s tough to know where to begin with The Snowman, but it’s a morbidly intriguing blizzard of failure on every level. Alfredson is famed for his chilly, atmospheric work and it’s clear he was attempting to bring that to this film. The problem is that creates a serious, po-faced tone to proceedings, which is entirely at odds with the trashy, ludicrous plot of an airport paperback. David Fincher managed an elegant and tonally nimble take on that sort of thriller with Gone Girl, but there’s no such alchemy at work in The Snowman, which isn’t self-aware enough to add a spoonful of silliness to help the murder go down.
In an attempt to create a knotty thriller plot, but one that differs from the source novel, The Snowman clearly began as an ambitious mystery. Unfortunately, with three screenwriters all chucking in a tuppence and creating a melange of story threads, it never coalesces into anything more coherent than a Donald Trump speech. Seemingly critical narrative threads are tossed aside almost at random and the script devotes enormous amount of time to characters played by recognisable actors who are either killed off or amount to total red herrings as far as the story is concerned.
Michael Fassbender, on paper, is the perfect actor to take the lead in a film like The Snowman. He’s an intense performer and, in the early stages, he is believable as a hard-drinking detective in search of something to occupy his mind. His chemistry with Rebecca Ferguson, though, is non-existent and there’s even less to say for the supposed sexual frisson between him and Charlotte Gainsbourg as the mother of his child. Their interactions are about as sexy as an evening discussing manhole covers with Jeremy Corbyn, but look like high art compared to the flashback sequences to Val Kilmer as a detective in the past – scenes so mind-bogglingly odd that I’m still not sure I didn’t dream them.
The Snowman is a colossal failure on every level and it was no surprise to read Alfredson complaining he didn’t get to shoot the entire script. It’s a mess of a movie that takes itself unbearably seriously and thinks a tiny snowman wearing a grimace is the height of tension. Crucial final act reshoots see Fassbender’s facial hair fluctuate from shot to shot and the whole thing lurches wildly towards its lazy, uninspired conclusion and a sequel tease that should almost be lauded for its laughable optimism. Will we see more of Harry Hole? Not a Snowman‘s chance in hell!
Pop or Poop?
It’s fair to say other film critics have overused the low-hanging fruit of Aled Jones puns and the word “abominable” when reviewing The Snowman. Those gags, though, don’t even scratch the surface of the bizarre, fascinating disaster that Tomas Alfredson has overseen. It’s really something to behold, but it’s about as fun as wandering around in a blizzard wearing only a mankini and a pair of Crocs.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.