Film Review: The Snowman

by Carrie Kahn on October 20, 2017

This Snowman will leave you cold       

Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) searches for a killer, and we search for a good movie. Which of us will be successful?

Whenever a movie is based on a book, there are always those who will passionately argue that “the book was better.” Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong, but, in the case of The Snowman, which opens today, I firmly believe the-book-is-better-crowd is correct, and I haven’t even read the book upon which the film is based. But, I have seen the movie, and, after watching it, I cannot possibly fathom that anything could be worse than this nonsensical, hastily thrown together, boring mess.

Based on the 2007 novel of the same name by the popular Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø, The Snowman follows Oslo detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) as he tracks a vicious serial killer whose m.o. is to kill women during winter and leave a creepy little snowman near the murder scene. The picture is a bit reminiscent of another, infinitely better Scandinavian book-based mystery; as in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in which a male detective also tracks a serial killer targeting women, here Det. Hole is also paired with a brilliant young female partner, played by Rebecca Ferguson.

This guy’s not even listed in the credits. I hope he at least got union scale for being in this career-killer.

But the similarities end there, since the Larsson-based movie features complex characters, an understandable and engaging mystery at its core, and motivations across the board that make sense. The Snowman, on the other hand, lacks all of these elements. Instead, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, who has done some fine work in the past (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Let the Right One In), gives us a choppy narrative, a weak premise, and way too many characters with story arcs that are both uninteresting and unnecessary. Plot points are introduced, and then dropped just as quickly. Hole has an ex-girlfriend (Charlotte Gainsbourg, wasted) with a son with a special connection to Hole and a new boyfriend who seems just a little too nice; Hole is displaced because a mold inspector is working on his apartment (a detail that seems to be in the film solely to allow a weirdo dude in a bright white hazmat suit to look menacing coming in and out of Hole’s building); a corporation run by a nefarious CEO (JK Simmons) is bidding to sponsor a major sporting event; and a flashback to nine years earlier in a totally different city shows us another detective (Val Kilmer, almost unrecognizable) who investigated a similar murder, with tragic results.

None of these disparate story parts ever coalesce or add up to anything even remotely intriguing. Alfredson seems to be aware of this shortcoming, as he tries to add some excitement to the proceedings by presenting us with particularly gruesome and brutal murder scenes. Since we barely know the murder victims (one of whom is played by the always welcome Chloe Sevigny), and care so little about the investigators, the shock of such graphic scenes actually has minimal impact, and instead just leaves us irritated and uninspired. And when the killer is finally revealed, let’s just say that even a casual viewer of mystery films will hardly be surprised, and probably will have fingered the suspect well before Det. Hole. Apparently the killer has Mommy issues. Or maybe it’s Daddy issues. Whichever it is is never made totally clear, and by the time the whole thing wraps up, nobody cares one way or another.

A taunting note sent to Det. Hole. And here’s my note to you, dear readers: You can save yourselves from this awful movie! I give you all the clues herewith!

It should be noted that Alfredson has actually admitted that he’s fully aware his picture isn’t up to par; in a recent interview, he explained that the production was rushed, and consequently the full screenplay wasn’t even shot (this may also explain why there are entire scenes and lines of dialog in the trailer that never appear in the film). One can only wonder — and hope, for the sake of all involved — if the picture might have been better if the complete screenplay (by screenwriters Peter Straughan, who also wrote the Tinker Tailor script, Hossein Amini, and Soren Sveistrup) had been successfully executed.

In the meantime, though, what we’re left with is a movie filled with great actors with little to do in an illogical and ridiculous film that, at the very least, is beautiful to look at; the wintry cinematography is the picture’s one saving grace. Otherwise, sadly for cinematographer Dion Beebe’s résumé, The Snowman will no doubt be remembered (if it is remembered at all) as a cinematic failure of the first order. Now go read the book.


The Snowman opens today at Bay Area theaters.

Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll. Proud new member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Marty October 25, 2017 at 4:51 pm

Absolutely loved the captions you gave to the two stills from the film you included in your review.
Wonderful sense of humor.


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