Overview: Detective Harry Hole tracks a serial killer with only the help of a handwritten note and his young partner. Universal Pictures; 2017; Rated R; 119 minutes.
Missed Opportunities: There is nothing easy about making movies. There is no formula to the making of a good movie, or of any other piece of art, for that matter. You cannot simply plug in the right pieces and expect greatness to be the output. A truly great film is usually more than the sum of its parts, it provides something wonderful and unexpected. The Snowman is neither a great a movie nor is it better than its components. In fact, The Snowman is far less than the sum of its parts.
You might think that it would be impossible to miss with a drama about a serial killer with this cast and crew. As a matter of fact, in the lead up to the release, there were a lot of positive signs for success. The director, Tomas Alfredson has created two of the best films of the century (Let The Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). The cast assembled has been absolutely stellar in previous work, featuring Michael Fassbender in a starring role, the underutilized Rebecca Ferguson, as well as J.K. Simmons and Val Kilmer in supporting roles. And frankly, the seeds of a decent enough crime drama are here. But don’t let that fool you. Only the seeds are present, and they are buried deep in the cold, unforgiving Norway ground. Of all the disappointing performances, Fassbender’s rankles the most. He is not completely phoning it in, but it seems as if he realizes what a disaster The Snowman has become, even while filming. He is distant and cold, and more so than the character of Harry Hole demands. Fassbender is not challenged and can pretty much do this in his sleep, but I wish he hadn’t made that attempt.
Distant and Disconnected: One of director Tomas Alfredson’s many strengths in previous films is his ability to connect distant, calculating characters with the audience, as well as with other characters in frame. This, combined with the beautifully filmed isolated Norway landscape by cinematographer Dion Beebe, would seemingly make The Snowman a slam dunk for Alfredson. That distance is certainly readily apparent, but the connections are not. The script, penned by Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini, and Soren Sveistrup does the film no favors in this regard. Numerous red herrings appear, and yet, there is never any doubt to as how the film will end. Additionally, it is shockingly poorly written in terms of dialogue. Characters seem to interact as if they were appearing in different films from one another and this only serves to disconnect us further. Our protagonist of Harry is a gifted detective, as well as a troubled alcoholic. Unfortunately, this is told much more than it is shown. With an actor with the skills and pedigree of Fassbender, this is a tremendous missed opportunity to show the humanity of a damaged man. Instead, the focus drifts to several subplots that both circle the film pointlessly and are never explained in a satisfactory manner.
Mercy Killing: The main plot of the film, that of the serial killer, signaled by the appearance of snowmen, is a difficult one to pull off. The childish imagery is bound to lead to laughter, either of the nervous or mocking variety. The film frankly does not do enough work to instill fear. Instead it is reminiscent of a poor slasher film, where instead of worrying about the characters, many will sit back and simply wait for the various bloody ends. This lack of care extends to not only the protagonist, but every character surrounding him. As the film mercifully ends (albeit with a setup for a sequel), there is not joy felt, only relief that this world can be left behind.
So Bad It’s Bad: There is a segment of the movie going population that appreciates a “so good it’s bad” movie like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Room, or even this year’s The Book of Henry. The Snowman is not that kind of bad. It is the mediocre kind of bad. The kind of movie that forces you to sit up not in excitement, but in order to fight the heaviness of your own eyelids. Much has been made of the troubled production, and it shows. The performances are strange in vocal choice and presence, the editing is distracting and obvious, there is brutally poor quality dubbing over Val Kilmer’s dialogue, and everyone involved is quickly distancing themselves. Honestly, this is probably the smartest decision, and one I wish I had made before sitting down to watch.
Overall: The Snowman is simply a bad film. Aside from some beautiful photography of the landscape, there is little to enjoy. Given its cast and crew, there is no excuse for the mediocrity on display. It is not the worst movie you may see, but it is possibly the least enjoyable.