Published Oct 20, 2017The Snowman fails on a number of fundamental levels. It's an ineffective mystery; its pacing is too slow, interesting nuggets of information are dropped too infrequently; and the story is intercut with bizarre flashbacks that feel out of place and pull us away from the narrative.
It's an ineffective character study, too; people speak and behave so inorganically (there are many prolonged, meaningful stares in The Snowman) that their motivations are confusing and unclear. And, worst of all for a horror movie, it's not scary; the snowmen here are adorable, no matter how menacing the film tries to make their little downturned mouths. But hey, at least Norway looks pretty.
A perpetually glowering Michael Fassbender stars here as (the unfortunately named) Harry Hole, an ace investigator with the Oslo police. He clomps around his apartment, which is infected by a contagious mould. He misses work a lot, he's a deadbeat dad and he stares at his ex-wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) through the window while she's at work. He takes his partner Katrine's (Rebecca Ferguson) files without asking her. He's an alcoholic. Harry Hole is very hard to like.
When he and Katrine are tasked with finding a missing woman, they notice a small snowman built in front of her home that resembles the snowman drawn on a menacing card Harry has received in the mail. They soon discover the woman fits the profile of a few others who've gone missing that year, including the wife of a prominent developer whose rival Arve Stop (J.K. Simmons, doing his best Norwegian accent when every other actor seemed to settle for an English one) is pitching Oslo to host the Olympic Winter Games.
It's all as disjointed as it sounds, and it's unsurprising that director Tomas Alfredson has since admitted that much of The Snowman's script was never shot. None of these threads ever tie together in a satisfying way, and we're left wondering what the point was to any of it. When the killer is finally revealed in the film's climax, it feels like a convenient copout, a way to quickly put The Snowman out of its misery.
This film is very, very serious, but it makes some decisions that are jarringly out of place: jaunty synth-pop hit "Popcorn" plays on the speakers in the home of a possible victim that Harry and Katrine are investigating. The young daughter of a victim pops up in a donkey mask, and Harry trades braying noises with her before asking if she's "ever seen mommy or daddy cry." A perpetually yelling Val Kilmer, playing a detective investigating a related missing person case nine years ago, mimes pissing at a co-worker during his birthday party. And, of course, there are the snowmen: little ones, big ones, their black eyes and frowning coffee bean mouths lurking ominously on street corners or spying on Harry and Katrine through the window.
The film tries to convey a sense of menace whenever a snowman appears, mostly through an overwrought, dramatic score, but it, like most of the film, falls deeply and disappointingly flat. (Universal)