This pulpy winter tale is a sloggy, sadistic Scandinavian mess
Starring Michael Fassbender & Rebecca Ferguson
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
“The great Harry Hole.”
That’s how a colleague refers to the driven, dour detective at the dark heart of this lurid tale based on the central character in the popular pulpy crime novels by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø. In The Snowman, actually the seventh of Nesbø’s 11 Harry Hole adventures but the first to make the big screen, the glum gumshoe is on the trail of a winter wacko who’s carving up women all around Oslo—always leaving a sad-faced snowman as a calling card.
Hole (Michael Fassbender) is supposed to be a brilliant detective; we’re informed that police cadets study his case files in their classes. He’s supposedly a genius at finding clues that everyone else misses. Hmmm… So how did Norway’s most celebrated criminologist end up in such a misguided, muddled, murder-y mess of a movie?
Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) has spoken about the movie’s troubled production—a rushed on-location shoot that only allowed for part of the script to be filmed. That certainly accounts for some of the movie’s choppy, patchy feel, the sense that characters are only partially formed and the feeling that what’s on screen often just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
That’s all the more disappointing given the project’s promising pedigree: an Oscar-nominated director, an all-star, international cast and an executive producer (Martin Scorsese) who certainly knows a thing or two about making a solid movie.
You might expect a flick called The Snowman to be set in the dead of winter, and “dead” pretty much describes it. Everything is grey, everything looks cold and everything looks lifeless. And many of the people you see—especially the women—will eventually be set free of their mortal coil, and dismembered as well. Heads, fingers, arms and legs get sliced off, blown to pieces and eaten by animals. The Snowman ain’t no jolly, happy Frosty, and this is hardly a holly-jolly corncob-pipe romp around the town square.
Harry and his colleague Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) collaborate—more or less—to track down the serial killer. They’re led to a kinky industrialist (J.K. Simmons) in charge of the city’s Winter Olympics bid; and the uncooperative, secretive husband (James D’Arcy) of a woman whose disappearance may be linked to the most recent murders; and a cold case from several years ago involving another detective (Val Kilmer).
There’s also Chloë Sevigny as twins, veteran British actor Toby Jones as another detective, and Charlotte Gainsbourg—who would be better known for starring in the 2013 Lars von Trier movies Nymphomanic: Vol. I and Vol. 2 if anyone had gone to see them—as Hole’s old flame, Rakel.
Rakel is dating Mathias (Jonas Karsson), a physician, and has a teenage son, Oleg (newcomer Michael Yates).
The movie is a Nordic swirl of suspects, victims, red herrings, clunky plotting and confusing editing. It certainly doesn’t help that every scene is the same shade of barren, wintry grey—it’s almost impossible to tell today from yesterday, or know when flashbacks return to the present. Harry and Katrine chase a thread about the killer targeting women of whom he disapproves, and there’s a subplot built on “bad parenting.” This movie’s mommy and daddy issues could easily fill up a fjord.
And the killer must be an evil spirit, a ninja, or both, the way he slips into places noiselessly and invisibly, lurks undetected and appears out of nowhere with his lethal bag of tricks. He’s a gamboling grim reaper, all right, until he steps right into a gaping (literal) plot hole.
Have you ever actually built a snowman? You know it takes the right kind of snow, not too dry, and you can’t just throw one together zippity zap. You’ve got to find something for at least the eyes and mouth—the killer apparently likes coffee beans, and skinny little sticks for arms. He never seems to have any trouble making a snowman anytime, anyplace, anywhere, and he still has time to murder and maim. But how come the killer’s snowmen—intended to strike fear, terror and dread—look like sad practical jokes made by a prop department?
“You can’t force the pieces to fit,” Harry tells a frustrated Katrine as she struggles over the tangle of clues, false leads and dead-end hunches. The same is true of The Snowman, a misfit pileup of talent and material that turns into one soggy, sadistic Scandinavian-flavored slay-belle ride.
In theaters Oct. 20, 2017