Last night I had the chance to catch a preview of the upcoming thriller, THE SNOWMAN, from acclaimed director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In). The film, which is based on the book of the same name by author Jo Nesbø, boasts an all-star cast that includes Michael Fassbender (Alien: Covenant), Rebecca Ferguson (Life), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Nymphomaniac), Val Kilmer (Heat) and J.K. Simmons (Whiplash).
The film centers around Harry Hole (Fassbender), a troubled detective on the hunt for a serial killer dubbed “The Snowman Killer” who murders young women during the first snowfall. From the trailers and TV spots, this film looked like an edge-of-your-seat thriller but in reality it’s a confusing mess with glaring plot holes, jumbled storylines, and lackluster performances. For a adaptation of a book that carries numerous praises, and a director who is known for his catalog of incredible films, it’s hard not to walk away from this film with a feeling of disappointment and lingering questions of what went wrong.
Before diving into the problems with the film, I want to highlight some of the good. The film, which is set and filmed in Norway, had beautiful landscapes highlighted by cinematographer Dion Beebe. Though the thought of being surrounded by that much snow gave me visible chills, I was still taken aback by the sheer beauty of the country. However, I did find it interesting that a film set in Norway did not require any speaking parts in Norwegian. Going even a step further, nothing in the film was even in the Norwegian language – no newspaper, no signs, nothing. It’s a shame because I really feel like that would have made the film more encompassing, because by removing that it took the identity away from the country and made it feel like this film could have been anywhere in the world that had a shit ton of snow. The other aspect of the film that I liked was, surprisingly, the gore. Seeing the brutality of the deaths against the pristine white landscape was jarring but exquisite and I loved the juxtaposition that it created.
Now, let’s transition into the acting. As a fan of Fassbender, I was looking forward to seeing him in his latest role, but I felt like for the majority of the film he was phoning it in. Harry Hole is supposed to be a troubled man, suffering from an alcohol addiction and personal demons, yet that’s barely touched upon. It’s indicated, sure, but I expected there to be much more in terms of that so that we, as the audience, would have a better understanding of what he was going through. The biggest shock of the film was seeing Val Kilmer, though. I’m not really sure what’s going on in his personal life, though I have heard he just underwent cancer treatment, but he was a total trainwreck in this film. I have no idea what type of performance he was trying to convey nor why it seemed like his lines were dubbed, but honestly, he was the most frightening part of the film. I hope that whatever is going on with him he comes out okay, but in the meantime, he may want to take a break from acting. As for the chemistry between Fassbender and his partner Detective Katrine Bratt (Ferguson), it was tepid at best and very perplexing.
Now to the crux of the film, the storyline. Look, I’m going to be honest, if you are going to have a film where the killer has a very distinct signature, it might be best if you explain where that signature comes from. There is no explanation for the snowmen at all, instead, each time they are shown, they look like cute works of art, not the grotesque symbolism that we were lead to believe. And the taunting that we see in the previews towards Harry Hole? That’s barely shown in the film. We get maybe two notes from the killer and neither one is particularly threatening. There are also a few different storylines happening at the same time as our leads hunt for the killer. Sure, those story arcs have somewhat of a tie to what is really happening in the film, but it seems far reaching, especially the storyline between J.K. Simmons character, Arve Støp, and Detective Bratt. I’m sure the book explains things better and ties up the loose ends much more neatly, but the film does not emulate that whatsoever. When we finally learn of the killer’s motives, the execution is so lackluster that I found myself laughing because I had reached a point where I couldn’t take this film seriously anymore.
Overall, THE SNOWMAN definitely isn’t the worst film I’ve seen this year, but it’s also not a film that I would tell anyone to rush out and see. Director Tomas Alfredson has gone on the record saying that production was rushed and that 10-15% of the script was never filmed which could explain why there are so many holes in the film. Regardless, this film had the potential to be an incredibly tense and fast paced thriller but ultimately ends up leaving a lot to be desired. I can only hope that when the Blu-ray/DVD comes out, that maybe there will be a director’s cut which shows more of the film and fills in the gaps that are so gaping in the theatrical release, but until then, I’m left with a lot of unanswered questions.
THE SNOWMAN arrives in theaters October 20th from Universal Pictures