Film Review – The Snowman
In the town of Oslo, Norway a serial killer hunts women and leaves behind a snowman as a calling card. Alcoholic detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) takes up the investigation to find the killer. In some regards that sounds like a solid setup to a sendup of serial killer thrillers that dominated the box-office in the 90s, especially in the wake of Silence of the Lambs. But, then there’s that little part about the snowman calling cards and that other part about the detective’s name being Harry Hole, and one, at least myself, has to wonder where The Snowman can go from there.
The story opens on an isolated house in the countryside where a woman and her boy live. A man arrives and things twisted and malevolent and end in tragedy, clearly setting up an origin story for the killer. Though right here at the beginning is where the first signs of trouble occur for the movie. The prologue is for no apparent reason edited almost entirely in jump cuts that serve no purpose. Cuts happen neither quick enough nor in sync with any narrative to warrant an erratic editing style. It’s a strange series of decisions that on top of a ridiculous premise and an even worse leading character name cause sideways glances to increase.
Harry Hole has been out of commission, on a presumed bender, and wants a case to occupy his attention when Detective Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) obliges with a murder from the Snowman. And then everything just kind of begins to fall apart and make little to no sense. And here’s the thing, director Tomas Alfredson has only made three films, including this one, and the other two, Let the Right One In and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy have garnered him critical praise. According to Alfredson, they had a tight shooting schedule which meant they didn’t have enough time to film the whole script. Which, given what the end result is, which be all means is an incoherent, frayed and at times almost listless mess of a movie, might explain a lot about why the movie mostly makes little sense by the time it’s done.
This isn’t the kind of terrible movie though where one gawks at the bad performances or wonders how the director made that choice and no one thought to say anything. Instead, this is the kind of bad that makes you scratch your head and ask what you just saw, but also wonder how that was even possible given the talent behind the camera. From Alfredson, to editor Thelma Schoonmaker, to cinematographer Dion Beebe to the talent in front of the camera, Fassbender, Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, Chloë Sevigny and J.K. Simmons. It’s kind of insane that so much talent can be brought together to lay down the year’s most intelligible mess.
But then, for all its incoherent tangents and dots that don’t connect, it’s kind of mesmerizingly entertaining to watch one scene knock into the next and not add up to anything that seems even elementary in terms of plot structure. It’s actually kind of glorious in all its muddled, perplexed stumbling. If it all made sense the way the thriller it billed itself as being played out to be, then it would probably just be another forgettable, by-the-numbers, thriller. Instead, there’s no way to forget this thing anytime soon after seeing it. Not that it’s scarring. It’s definitely not that. Though it does have its own misogynist issues that continue well past the character name.
What you end up with is watching Hole stumble around a mystery built on top a premise that feels gleamed from a parody horror film that was already made twenty years ago. It seems obvious the idea was to attempt to make snowmen into something disturbing, but I think the operative word in that is attempt, as the result is something I found to be laugh-out-loud hilarious in merely its presentation. It wasn’t shot to be funny and I’m sure to some it isn’t, but really, it is. Somewhere in all this though you can see the strands of a story that was probably more fully fleshed out in the portions of the script that wasn’t shot. And then there’s the source material novel by author Jo Nesbø to contend with, which according to its own plot summary sounds more coherent and provides maybe some gaps to what’s left over here. However, it’s not going to matter really, because something amazingly this disastrous just needs to be seen to be believed.