A film review by Craig J. Koban October 29, 2017



2017, R, 119 mins.


Michael Fassbender as Harry Hole  /  Rebecca Ferguson as Katrine Bratt  /  Val Kilmer as Gert Rafto  /  Chloë Sevigny as Sylvia Ottersen  /  J.K. Simmons as Arve Støp  /  Charlotte Gainsbourg as Rakel  /  James D'Arcy as Filip Becker 

Directed by Tomas Alfredson  /  Written by Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini, and Søren Sveistrup, based on the book by Jo Nesbø




THE SNOWMAN is a new serial killer murder mystery of limitless badness, one that's so inapproachably messy, ineptly scripted, frustratingly edited, and morosely performed that you kind of have to wonder how a film with such remarkable skill in front of and behind the camera could make something as creatively wrongheaded.   

Just consider: It's produced by Oscar winner Martin Scorsese, edited by Oscar winner Thelma Schoonmaker, stars Oscar nominees Michael Fassbender and J.K. Simmons, and is directed by Tomas Alfredson, the helmer of such brilliant films such as LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY.  THE SNOWMAN becomes an absolutely painful endurance test of will to watch because of its horrible misappropriation of talent and resources; this is one of the most inconceivably incoherent and bewildering films that I've seen all year. 

THE SNOWMAN is based on the best selling crime novels of Jo Nesbo and concerns the exploits of Oslo based detective Harry Hole (yup, not a great or inspired name at all).  If this film does anything well I would say this: As a person that has experienced over forty years of winters in Canada, this film positively nails its snow covered Norway settings with a startling verisimilitude.  There's a compellingly dangerous and foreboding natural beauty that permeates THE SNOWMAN, but the authentically rendered location shooting means nothing when virtually nothing of interest happens in these frigid environments.  That, and the core premise of this thriller kind of inspires chuckles: a dangerous serial killer is on the loose that makes and leaves snowman at the scene of his crimes as unique calling cards.  This is problematic because (a) snowman are not the least bit frightening and (b) snowman are used in the film to generate moments of terror that elicits more giggles than scares. 



Michael Fassbender - one of our greatest and most empowered actors working in contemporary cinema - has never looked so borderline comatose in a role before as he does here playing Hole, the leader of an ace squad of homicide detectives in Olso.  He's also one of those dime a dozen and obligatory alcoholic cops that still somehow manages to miraculously keep his job as a detective because of how ingenious he is...despite the fact that his cunning intellect is never really on display in the film.  Anyhoo', Hole is tasked early on in the film to begin a massive investigation into a series of ghastly murders that have one specific commonality - the appearance of a snowman at the crime scene.    

Have I told you already that snowman are not as scary as this film thinks they are? 

Hole teams up with a new recruit (because these types of standard issue police procedurals require a rookie sidekick) in Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), who worships Hole and has studied his work "at the Academy," but has her own sordid and murky past of her own.  Following a series of breadcrumb-like clues, the pair eventually comes in contact with a high ranking local businessman, Arve Stop (J.K. Simmons) and his doctor, Idar Vetlesen (David Denick), but this proves to be a relative dead end when new clues are introduced to the mix.  The closer Hole and Bratt believe that they are coming to a successful end of their investigation, multiple red herrings and new revelations rear their ugly heads and place them on the hunt even more.  As more bodies begin to pile up, Hole soon realizes that he may be journeying down the wrong path to nabbing the killer, all while trying to mend his troubled personal life with his ex (Charlotte Gainsbourg).   

Where do I even begin to relay to you what's so hopelessly and endlessly wrong with THE SNOWMAN?  Maybe the writing was on the wall for this film when Alfredson very publicly and bravely revealed that his shoot in Norway was far too short and that, when all was said and done, the production was so chaotically rushed that - by his estimation - large chucks of what was on the written page were never filmed.  This rigidly undisciplined and hastily shot vibe to the production that Alfredson is alluding to can be abundantly felt within the first thirty minutes of THE SNOWMAN, seeing as there's a scandalous lack of basic narrative cohesion on display.  The story jumps from one scene to another seemingly unrelated one with a glaring arbitrariness, sometimes with the nagging sensation that multiple filler scenes that would have been required as bridging material to make sense of it all are missing.  Then there are moments when the film abruptly flashes back in time, then flashes forward, only to do the same again by introducing us to characters that appear inconsequential to the overall plot thrust.  The fact that THE SNOWMAN is co-edited by Schoonmaker - a career-long collaborator with Scorsese that has cut most of his films and could easily be labelled as one of the greatest editors of all time - and the resulting film is so senselessly constructed and illogically paced is beyond flabbergasting. 

Multiple subplots are introduced, not really expanded upon, later abandoned, and ultimately re-visited when the screenplay awkwardly deems it necessary.  Bratt's character and past seem terribly defined and annoyingly ambiguous, not to mention that of Simmons' businessman that's working overtime to try to bring the Olympics to Olso, but is frequently distracted by his unquenchably thirst for prostitutes.   Hole's fractured relationship with ex-wife and his father-like relationship to her son (which he's not biologically related to) is equally ill defined in the narrative.  Chloe Sevigny appears once in the film, then is horrifically dispatched with by the killer, only to perplexingly re-appear later...as the victim's surviving twin sister.  Perhaps even more bizarre is a laughably inconsequential and confusing flashback to a detective that years ago also was on the trail of the killer.   

He's played by Val Kilmer in one of the most baffling and wretchedly botched cameos in movie history. 

Now, to be absolutely fair to Kilmer, he has been going through some undefined health issues in the recent past, which cancer being rumored and indirectly referenced by the actor in social media posts.  When he appears as his sleuth in THE SNOWMAN he appears frail, semi-gaunt, and distractingly unhealthy.  Worse yet, Kilmer's voice has been egregiously dubbed by what clearly appears to be a whole other unknown actor altogether that sounds nothing like him, which makes the very few scenes that he occupies unnervingly distracting.  Now, this begs the question: why couldn't the makers here simply recast the beyond-obviously sick Kilmer with another performer and, as a result, let the poor man has have his dignity back?   How any director, editor, producer, or, hell, studio head believed in their heart of hearts that Kilmer's footage was usable in their current state in the film is a shocking indictment of their collective lack of artistic integrity. 

Kilmer's not the only performance casualty, though, seeing as nearly every single actor in THE SNOWMAN appears to make very little effort whatsoever to plausibly enunciate with a Norwegian accent, which is bad considering that the story is set in Norway (Simmons comes closest, I guess, but he sound more nasally British than Norwegian).  Headlining the film without any visible charm or energy is Fassbender, whom barely puts forward an effort to make his unorthodox detective an appealing and/or endearing anti-hero.  I'm quite sure that the literary Harry Hole must have been an endlessly intriguing and multi-faceted character on the page that inspired multiple novels, but in the movie he's such a dull and monotonous bore of a persona that you just kind of want to thrown something up at the screen in protest when it appears - in the end - that the film wants to set up a potential franchise of films with him.   

Speaking of endings, THE SNOWMAN culminates with a climatic showdown between Hole and the killer that relies on a laundry list of lame duck clichés, some of which include the villain's need to talk and talk...and talk to the captured and bound hero when he could have easily just killed him, not to mention that the identity of said villain can be easily deduced early on using the Law of Economy of Characters, a movie convention that dictates that any inconsequential character in the story early on will be artificially made consequential by its end.  I walked out of my screening of THE SNOWMAN feeling defeated and miserable.  I'm quite positive that there's a great thriller buried very deep beneath this film's soul crushing clumsiness.  What I saw was an unadulterated mess, a work that felt like an inordinately rough first edit that's not even close to deserving of a theatrical release.  Because of this, THE SNOWMAN emerges as one of 2017's most unwatchable fiascos.  

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