The Snowman (2017)

Soon the first snow will come, and then he will kill again.

I couldn’t help but feel disappointed with The Snowman, the latest big screen book-to-film adaptation a bit of a missed opportunity. Based on the high-brow bestselling crime-mystery novel of the same name, written by Jo Nesbø, and directed by renowned Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), The Snowman seemed destined to cast a killer storm over the Halloween box office, its unnerving promotional campaign freezing audiences in fear. Unfortunately, even with its terrifying premise, chilling setting and A-list stars — Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson and J. K. Simmons — The Snowman is DOA, defrosted on arrival, this muddled thriller struggling to shock or impress.

Essentially, one can lay the blame on the narrative, the fractured, untidy script failing to mirror the suspense and horror of the beloved source material, which itself is the seventh part in a book series, a series that follows hard-edged detective Harry Hole, played here by a glum Michael Fassbender, Prometheus (2012). Maybe choosing the seventh story to translate first could be part of the problem, or the fact that screenwriters Peter Straughan, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), Hossein Amini, Drive (2011), and Søren Sveistrup — who worked on the BAFTA winning television show The Killing (2007-2012) — fail to generate that Norwegian-y flavor of Nesbø’s masterwork, The Snowman unable to balance Hollywood-style thrills with European sensibilities; for one, the movie takes place in Oslo, Norway, a location that most probably haven’t heard of (hell, I’d never heard of it) the proximity of its surroundings (towns and places we visit) also relatively unclear.

License to Chill

Either way, this whodunit centers on brilliant yet troubled investigator Harry Holt, an inspector working for the Oslo crime department, Holt eventually dragged into a deadly game of cat and mouse when a cold-blooded serial killer, who leaves a sinister snowman at each of his crime scenes, resurfaces, the eerie snow-heap eventually becoming the butcher’s calling card. You see, this elusive sociopath had been dormant for some years, the harsh, cold winter reawakening his thirst for blood, the disheveled Holt, who’s somewhat of an alcoholic, taunted by the psychopath (via anonymous letters and phone calls) when his homicidal spree reignites; but, hey, Holt barley turns up to work and, more often than not, finds himself waking up in the gutter, this suggesting that he may need all the help he can get if he wishes to crack the case.

And so, our tortured antihero soon teams up with gifted new recruit Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), a rookie determined to connect the icy unsolved murders — all of which involve young mothers at odds with the father of their children — these horrific slayings spanning cities and decades. As the investigation intensifies, mounting evidence points our crime-fighting duo to two key suspects: an influential industrialist named Arve Støp (J.K. Simmons), who’s leading a bid to bring the Winter Olympics to Oslo, and a smarmy, womanizing plastic surgeon named Idar Vetlesen (David Dencik).

‘Okay winter, you’ve made your point.’

Structurally, the story sticks fairly close to Nesbø’s excellent page-turner, but as a film, The Snowman is bland and jumbled, the central mystery playing out in a rather by-the-numbers fashion — what should have paralyzed audiences, and left them shaking in their seats, winds up being a bit of a snooze-fest. Furthermore, the themes from Nesbø’s paperback have unfortunately been left on the page, or lost in translation — apparently 20% of the script was not filmed due to hectic schedule demands — the movie as surface-level as they come; we never really tap into Holt’s headspace or explore what makes other characters tick. And don’t get me started on the identity of the methodical madman, our antagonist (and his sketchy motivations) blatantly obvious from the get-go, this unintentional ‘reveal’ making a large chunk of the red herrings feel, well, pointless — the majority of the film plays like filler. Honestly, the writers seem more concerned with silly plot devices — such as the cops’ fancy new fingerprint-locked recording doohickey — rather than building tension or constructing a coherent puzzle; the fate of a principal player is literally glossed over, this death not given a passing thought, leading one to question why audiences were made to care about this character in the first place — because filmmakers clearly didn’t!

With the legendary Martin Scorsese originally slated to direct (the 74-year-old still remaining on-board as a producer), one can’t help but wonder what The Snowman ‘could have been,’ Tomas Alfredson, while a capable and committed filmmaker, perhaps not the right fit for the project. It doesn’t help that The Snowman was rushed into production post Scorsese’s departure, a time when things should have really hit the skids, the movie very uneven and disjointed as a result, the pacing fairly choppy as well. Even Oscar-winning editors Thelma Schoonmaker, The Departed (2006), and Claire Simpson, Platoon (1986), aren’t able to salvage this dreary, indecipherable mess.

Snowman is an island

With that said, The Snowman does have some virtues; the grisly killings should (at a minimum) satisfy hungry gore-hounds, the flick flaunting an array of deranged decapitations, gruesome dismemberments and brutal shotgun blows to the head, the carnage certainly not for the faint of heart. The visuals are also excellent, with director of photography Dion Beebe, Edge of Tomorrow (2014), capturing the menacing wintery landscapes with a sense of awe and wonder, the Australian-born cinematographer mixing stark monochrome exteriors with bright, saturated indoor locales, the picture possessing a distinct color palette and a genuine Scandinavian flavor — shame the scenic vistas can’t make up for The Snowman’s many shortcomings.

Self-destructive protagonist Harry Hole lacks any sort of depth or intrigue; if anything, Fassbender’s flat interpretation of the boozing detective extraordinaire makes one question the legitimacy of Nesbø’s literary sensation — Hole can’t maintain interest in one story, let alone another six, The Snowman doing a disservice to the much-loved character. London-born actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, Nymphomaniac (2013), is given nothing to do as Harry’s ex-lover Rakel Fauke, their son Oleg, played by Michael Yates, coming across as a mere footnote, too — I’m sure this isn’t the case in the novel! Sharing negative-degree of chemistry with her co-star, Rebecca Ferguson, The Girl on the Train (2016), is wasted as driven policewoman Katrine, while J.K. Simmons, Whiplash (2014), is completely miscast as mover and shaker Støp, his unnatural English accent a bit of a distraction. Finally, a very worse for ware Val Kilmer, Heat (1995), pops up in a handful of flashback scenes as off-the-rails officer Gert Rafto, a tormented policeman who’d hunted the cunning ‘Snowman Killer’ some ten years prior, Kilmer’s dialogue poorly dubbed and incredibly unpleasant on the ears.

‘Snow way I’m telling you.’

Complete with a hugely anticlimactic third-act, lovers of the crime-mystery genre are probably better off watching (or re-watching) a middling episode of the long-running CBS series Criminal Minds (2005), this Nordic noir misfire not really worth bracing the elements for (cold or hot, whatever part of the world you live in). Really, the only thing that’s been massacred here are chances for a potential Harry Hole saga. Poor ol’ Fassy, the guy’s kinda becoming synonymous with extinguishing franchises before they’ve even landed — first Assassin’s Creed (2016) now this, and then there was that whole Alien: Covenant (2017) fiasco, another picture that put the nail on the coffin of a decade-long series. Ouch, talk about a murderous streak!

2 / 5 – Average

Reviewed by S-Littner

The Snowman is released through Universal Pictures Australia