“You could have saved her.”
Some movies are born to fail. Some movies are bound to succeed. But every movie is a gamble in one way or another. No matter how much honest-to-goodness talent you stuff inside your film, there’s always room for error. The Snowman, the latest thriller-drama from talented filmmaker Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), had all the right ingredients. It’s based on the book of the same name by acclaimed author Jo Nesbo. Peter Straughan (Wolf Hall), Hossein Amini (Drive), and Soren Sveistrup (The Killing) chipped in to adapt the screenplay. The cast features Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, James D’Arcy, Toby Jones, J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer, Chloe Sevigny and a sleuth of other brilliant, well-respected actors. Martin Scorsese is an executive producer. His highly esteemable editor Thelma Schoonmaker — along with the equally creditable Claire Simpson — put the pieces in place. Yet, like a melting snowman hastily being assembled while the sun quickly liquidates it, The Snowman doesn’t come together. It’s hard to say why that’s the case, but it’s harder to argue otherwise after seeing it. Despite all the prestige talent you could want, The Snowman is a shoddy, frothy mess.
Michael Fassbender’s Harry Hole (hahahahaha) is a grizzled workaholic/alcoholic detective in Norway looking for his next case. The character is likely more compelling in the book, but in this adaptation, not even an actor as present and adept as Fassbender can make the character anything close to compelling. Stumbling through his lonely, bitter life, living in an empty apartment while holding a distant relationship with his on-and-off ex-girlfriend (Gainsbourg) and her teenage son Oleg (Michael Yates), Harry is barely holding it together when he’s thrown his next case, a bizarre string of missing regional women seemingly only connected by motherhood, with each vanishing happening whenever newfound snow hits the ground. Placed in their absence is little snowmen, signifying a lone killer with very specific, sinister intentions.
Joining Harry in this particular case is Katrine (Ferguson), a similarly hard-nosed, tough-as-nails partner who is seemingly supposed to have some sizzled chemistry with our handsome detective. But their relationship is as cold as the snow which surrounds them, never achieving the sparkling heights that usually warm up these thrillers. And there are a variety of other supporting characters floating around, from J.K. Simmons’s business tycoon Arve Stop to Val Kilmer’s odd detective Rafto, seen only in poorly-highlighted flashbacks, but their involvement in the general story ranges from murking to nearly inexplicable, as Alfredson and his writers fail to make cohesive sense of any of this nonsense. Even if The Snowman was supposed to be disposable, like many other airport fiction adaptations, it should at least make some sense. But this movie is as disjointed as it’s confusing, and that’s not when it’s generally being too obvious. That’s also not to take into account the fact that the lead villain is too silly for his own good, inspiring more giggles than scares. The Snowman is really banking on your fear of snowmen, assuming that Michael Keaton’s Jack Frost scared the dickens out of you once, and that currency melts rapidly.
Even in cinematic areas where Alfredson usually succeeds, The Snowman falls short. Alfredson’s last two movies made beautiful, concentrated efforts to showcase their frigid atmosphere. Here, while Norway is impossible to make completely unscenic, it hardly ever plays a major part in the film’s visual aesthetic. The potential for such a rich, vastly gorgeous location is squandered almost always. There are times where the movie looks like it could almost be anywhere, and that’s not a good thing at all in this particular scenario. It also doesn’t help that The Snowman is littered with awkward digitalized zoom-ins, all of which are ill-advised. It kills whatever good should come from the otherwise-assured cinematography, and it gives The Snowman a sense of blandness and non-distinctiveness that this particularly chilly thriller shouldn’t host.
Worse of all, it’s just plain dull. Even when it’s bad, it’s not fun to watch. It’s simply a wet, lingering slog. And that only makes the inexplicable terribleness of the film all the more frustrating and disappointing. It’s not even a fascinating failure; it’s a pitifully bleak, unexciting one. Alfredson claims that 10-15 percent of the script was left unfilmed, which is why the movie doesn’t necessarily come together in any fulfilling way. But even if that’s the case, the footage that’s presented here is still unremarkable, cliched and deathly dry. It hardly ever displays the fine craftsmanship of all the massively talented people aboard, and the general lack of intrigue or suspense found in the mystery angle is what continuously makes it painful to endure. It’s also, weirdly, pretty darn dumb too, but I’m not going to blame Nesbo. There are too many other things wrong with this film to put all the blame on an author that isn’t really involved — if he was involved at all.
The Snowman is a bland, miserable example of what happens when talented people come together to make a bad film. The moviemaking business isn’t always going to churn out great films, most certainly, but that doesn’t explain or excuse the poor film that’s played before us here. Sometimes, you can have everything at your disposal and still find yourself with nothing remarkable in your hands. The Snowman should’ve been pretty great, but instead, it left me unmoved and underwhelmed as it slowly, painfully killed any semblance of hope and promise I had going for it with each grueling minute. Sadly, this one is cold to the touch.