The premise of The Snowman is simple – set in Norway we follow Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) a brilliant detective who struggles with alcohol addiction and has a somewhat estranged relationship with his former girlfriend (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her son. He’s assigned to a case concerning the disappearances of a number of women with all the cases being connected by the falling snow and the appearance of a snowman near the crime scene. Teaming up with transfer officer Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), Hole must expose who the killer is before they come for his loved ones.
The main sin of The Snowman is the most cardinal one you could commit when creating a thriller; the mystery is not engaging in the slightest. There’s nothing interesting about the whole thing as it lumbers along with all the crime movie clichés including all the red herring suspects, the scenes of tension between the main protagonists and the inevitable reveal and motive drop before a final confrontation. That last part is particularly dreadful in The Snowman as the eventual killer is not only fairly obvious the instant they step on screen but they have really underwritten motivations that feel as though they were just thrown at them with little thought – not to mention the manner in which they’re dispensed in the end is utterly laughable in how much of an anti-climax it is. Speaking of laughable the whole snowman motive of the film is played so utterly wrong and becomes hilarious at times – there are many shots of snowmen just lurking outside the window (including a few zoom in shots) that attempt to make them look menacing but falls flat because – well, they’re snowmen. One particular scene that made me guffaw out loud in the cinema involves a dead woman’s head being replaced by that of a snowman which is ludicrous in both concept and execution. If your serious film is reminding you of Jack Frost, the so bad it’s good horror movie about a snowman who literally kills people, then you’re failing at your job.
The whole film honestly feels utterly incompetent from start to finish, which is especially galling given the strength of the previous films by director Tomas Alfredson (he’s the man who made Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). Many scenes seem thrown into the movie at random with little to no pay-off and there’s a large number of bad edits, sloppy continuity errors and obvious ADR dubs from the actors that give The Snowman the impression of being cobbled together thanks to studio mandate (which was the case to a degree according to Alfredson – and you know a movie’s shit if the director’s talking smack about it before its release in the US). It doesn’t help that the film has two editors and despite the fact that one of them is Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese’s editor (Scorsese himself is an executive producer of the film having originally been lined up to direct), it can’t prevent the thrown together feel that the film has in editing and structure. Worse than wasting Alfredson however is wasting the really strong cast that the film has. Fassbender really needs to find himself a new agent as he’s had a really rough ride lately – I didn’t think he’d be in a worse film this year than Alien: Covenant but he somehow managed to be in one that bottomed that piece of crap. His performance feels phoned in and he doesn’t capture the sympathetic side of Hole or effectively picture his struggles with alcohol addiction – he instead just comes across as a stand-offish jerk who’s not engaging at all and is a bunch of hard-boiled detective cliches. The supporting cast is also all unmemorable – Ferguson and Gainsbourg are OK but don’t really have much to do, Toby Jones appears for all of two minutes and most damningly of all the film wheels out the almighty J.K. Simmons, gives him a crap accent, don’t let him yell at all and makes his character useless. For shame, movie. These actors could have propelled the film if it were in better hands but as it stands they all just feel horrifically wasted.
The Snowman stands as one of the worst films of the year, being a boring and unengaging movie that squanders its main mystery that could have been exciting but instead comes across as a generic murder mystery story in its execution. I can’t tell how it treats its source material with its adaptation – and I can’t say I’m very interested in going to read it after this film – but I’m sure it would have been at least a little bit better than the film that we got from it. With an almost incompetent sense of direction and editing, a squandering of a fantastic set of actors and many moments that aim for being horrifying but become laughable instead, this is a film that’s about as enjoyable as a snowball down the neck. We can only hope that any plans for a sequel to this franchise quickly melt away.
The Snowman – directed by Tomas Alfredson, screenplay by Hossein Amini and Peter Straughn, produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robyn Solvo and Peter Gustaffson, starring Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Toby Jones, Val Kilmer and J.K. Simmons. A Working Title Films/Perfect World Pictures production, a Universal Pictures film