Published on October 20th, 2017 | by Dan Nicholls


The Snowman

Once you can stop snickering at the name of the main character, Harry Hole, you can probably pass on this snowy, choking avalanche of rubbish.

The new film The Snowman presented itself to audiences months ago in the form of a creepy and atmospheric trailer. “Sign me up!” many folks, this writer included, proclaimed. Even as the poor word-of-mouth in the film industry started to creep in, best hopes were maintained that we’d receive an effective thriller even if it wasn’t a great one. Warning signs are not absolute, but in the instance of The Snowman the negative buzz turned out to be harbingers of doom. The finished film opening in theaters this weekend is a dreadful, incomprehensible dud.

Haunted and drowning in alcohol, we first meet Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) passed out on a freezing park bench. His home is in shambles, he’s barely tolerated at work, and he seems to be hopelessly in love with his ex-girlfriend, Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg). He even still acts as a father figure to Rakel’s son Oleg (Michael Yates). Despite being in shambles in every way imaginable, Harry is given a shot at redemption when a series of related murders start popping up and a new partner, Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson), joins him to crack the case.

A familiar pattern has spread throughout Norway and a number of seemingly unconnected murders begin to reveal a larger picture. The victims all have potent similarities, and a serial signature is signed via disturbing snowmen rolled up outside every crime scene. It’s kind of a spooky premise, amplified by the harsh winter raging throughout the story.

Harry and Katrine have some good chemistry together but seem oblivious to the clues right in front of them. Katrine is the film’s most well rounded character and her tunnel vision is actually explored in a somewhat meaningful way. The incompetence of everyone else in the picture, however, is not explained.

For all the fame and praise Harry has from his past cases, we don’t really get a chance to see what all the fuss over him is about. Dots are connected in such a paint-by-numbers way that it makes it feel like most audience members would probably be able to do the job. The resolution of the mystery comes about without Harry really contributing all that much. It’s a mystery solved all to easily. Where’s the fun in that?

A flashback subplot involving a Bergen detective played by Val Kilmer is baffling. Its inclusion seems completely inconsequential to The Snowman and excising it from the proceedings would’ve only served the film in a positive way. It’s a shame seeing Kilmer and the talented Toby Jones go to waste in scenes that appear to make as much sense to the characters as it does to the audience.

There’s very little that works well here. Fassbender and Ferguson are fantastically talented actors capable of delivering any performance asked of them. It’s unknown if they’re horribly misdirected here or if it’s just a result of slapdash editing – either way, it’s completely inconsistent and nearly unintelligible at times.

As bad as the movie is, it isn’t without some merit. The snowy Norwegian landscapes are beautifully captured and some shots are attractively staged and photographed. There are some nice character touches too – like the fact that Harry carries his case files and other belongings around in a plastic shopping bag instead of a briefcase or satchel. The killer’s weapon of choice is uniquely unsettling as well. And the many snowmen are creepy as hell. But those few things are merely twinkles of the starry sky the movie could’ve filled.

For a stacked cast of actors there is shockingly little depth or real emotion on screen. J.K. Simmons is given a bit of scenery to chew but doesn’t make a full meal out of it. Chloë Sevigny pops up to play twins and the actress spends her few scenes looking sleep-deprived and confused, exactly how the audience feels while watching the movie.

There are plentiful enough reasons to understand why The Snowman was made: based on a best-selling novel, powerful leading man, and the executive producing power of Martin Scorsese (a credit in name only, one has to assume). The film’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets Kiss the Girls vibe definitely has the markings of a real chilling thriller. And director Tomas Alfredson knows how to deftly handle snowy horror as well as densely plotted mysteries, evidenced by his phenomenal previous two films Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The Snowman never once feels like it has been guided by a steady and sure hand; likely the result of behind-the-scenes politics and production problems versus the director’s vision.

At a full 119 minutes, The Snowman melts long before the credits roll. A coda at the end of the film suggests there could be more mysteries to come with Detective Harry Hole. But instead of leaving the theater feeling stoked on the character we just end up groaning at a heavy-handed attempt to force a franchise on the world. Author Jo Nesbø has a whole series of Harry Hole novels – much like Tom Cruise’s character Jack Reacher – but The Snowman is a total non-starter. Can you imagine ever saying, “Damn I can’t wait for the new Harry Hole flick,” with a straight face after this mess?

There’s no real reason to seek out The Snowman, folks. It’s one of those movies you fall asleep during while watching on Netflix, so maybe save it for its appropriate viewing time and place. Turn the heat up and get out of the cold but do it with a movie other than this one. In fact, if you’re in the mood for a frosty thriller with something on its mind, give The X-Files: I Want to Believe a try. Passed over when it was released, it’s a thoughtful winter serial murder mystery that might surprise you. Mulder and Scully have got to be better than Harry Hole, if nothing else.


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is a Vancouver-based, lifelong movie geek who's been a projectionist, critic, director, (accidental) actor, and writer in the industry since E.T. phoned home. @dannicholls

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