The Snowman Review
Tomas Alfredson’s The Snowman is not simply a bad movie; it’s a movie so catastrophic that it ought to be looked at as a template for the many ways in which a film can fail. It’s such a complete and total shambles that it’s frankly difficult to know where to start analyzing it.
The film follows the intensely boring veteran detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) on his quest to hunt down the titular serial killer, who follows a snow-related modus operandi almost as ridiculous as the name “Harry Hole”. Hole, a drunken incompetent with rare and unpredictable investigative insights, is inexplicably intent on catching the murderer, with a little help from his clumsily-introduced rookie partner, Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson).
The story, from the very beginning, is dreadful. The pursuit of the Snowman isn’t suspenseful, there are no organic breakthrough moments, and every character is lifeless. Hole has an insufferable B-plot wherein he attempts to act as a father figure to the nearly adult child of his ex-girlfriend, a relationship just about as befuddling as you’d expect from this film. A series of flashbacks featuring Val Kilmer as Katrine’s father, the detective who originally investigated the Snowman, are not only packed with excessive red herrings, but also heavily feature poorly-edited voiceover dubbing. Well, why not?
Also, J.K. Simmons plays a sinister politician lobbying for Oslo to be the host of a fictional winter sports event. Did I forget to mention that the film takes place in Oslo? That’s probably because the film seems to deliberately avoid mentioning the city, every character speaks in English, and no one has a Norwegian accent (except Simmons, whose attempted accent is so atrocious that it’s borderline insulting). The amount of time the audience of The Snowman is required to spend simply trying to figure out the setting of the film is a disgrace.
If the script of The Snowman is bad, then the performances are downright dreadful. Every line delivered sounds a breath exiting a corpse, completely emotionless and devoid of energy. It’s hard to be sure who to blame for the cringe-worthy performances handed in by veteran actors like Fassbender, Kilmer, Simmons, and the underutilized Chloë Sevigny, but one can only assume that thespians already subjected to a torturous script could hardly have benefitted from the awful direction that manifests itself in every frame.
Speaking of the failed direction, Alfredson clearly did not shoot enough material (or at least not enough good material), judging by the fact that the film’s editing feels haphazard, incomplete, and confusing, even though it was overseen by industry legend Thelma Schoonmaker. Moreover, the footage that was captured is almost entirely defined by gray tones that underscore the blandness of the performances. Dion Beebe, a highly competent cinematographer known for colorful films like Chicago, cannot possibly be held accountable for the visual failures of the film. The Snowman is perfect evidence that even with a talented cast and an experienced technical team, bad direction and a dismal script are more than enough to sink a project.
Generally, I prefer not to rate films on their merit, but to analyze the ideas they put forward and to interpret their meanings. However, this methodology cannot be applied to The Snowman. The film is too bewildering, too irritating, and too boring to view with any sort of nuanced leniency. If it was even slightly different, I might have been able to give it some credit – it could have worked as a comedy, or an experimental piece, or a pretentious inversion of genre. But it’s not any of these things. Simply put, it’s unwatchable.