Who butchered The Snowman?
This utterly clueless adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s bestseller fails on every conceivable level. What seems like a reliable basis for an atmospheric Nordic Noir becomes instead a trudge through rote scenarios and underdone psychology. So who is responsible?
Michael Fassbender stars as the icy, impenetrable Harry Hole, an Oslo-based homicide detective who was reportedly once very good at his job, but whose personal life has gone to pieces – which mostly seems to involve him slouching around in a green jacket. He’s an alcoholic (who we never see drink), an insomniac (whose sleeping habits seem unremarkable), and his boss (Ronan Vibert – droll and perpetually glowering) is tired of covering for him.
Through the machinations of a colleague, Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), Harry ends up on a missing person case that seems to be part of a sinister trend dating back years; a trend of women disappearing all across Norway. All are single, or else in unhappy relationships; all with children. In fact, there are distinct parallels with Harry’s own life: he has a child with his ex (Charlotte Gainsborough) – with whom Fassbender shares a remarkable lack of chemistry – a teenage boy, Oleg (Michael Yates), who doesn’t know that Harry’s his biological dad.
It’s this fact that seems to bring Harry to the attention of the perpetrator, a serial killer known as The Snowman – though he’s never referred to as such in the film – a serial killer known as such because of the calling card he leaves behind. Clearly meant to be sinister – symbolic of corrupted innocence, etc., etc. – they come across instead as vaguely comical; especially when coupled with splashes of lurid gore.
Tomas Alfredson, who showed such an aptitude with 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, can’t seem to find a foothold here. There’s a similar range of suspects – David Dencik’s creepy obstetrician, J.K. Simmon’s plummy philanthropist, James D’Arcy’s fraught family man1, that weird fumigator guy – but the film never delves into any of them. The only way to get ahead of it is follow the cliché.
Was it screenwriters Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan, and Soren Sveistrup?2 The Snowman’s script drops plot threads like a badly knitted jumper. Why, for instance, are there twin Chloë Sevignys? What becomes of the implied sexual abuse angle?3 Women are resigned to roles as victims, manipulators, or hysterics; usually a combination of all three.
The clear culprit is the studio itself, who have seemingly dismembered aided and abetted by two Oscar-winning editors, Claire Simpson and the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker.4 I’d be willing to hear a plea here that the film died on the table: they were clearly charged by Universal with chopping Alfredson’s glacially-paced detective drama into something more conventional; more easily marketable.5
In trying to inject pace into this type of film, they’ve killed the atmosphere. For all this, The Snowman is, strangely, not boring. Val Kilmer putters around in largely disconnected flashbacks as another drunken detective who previously worked the case. He’s stiff, his cheeks are swollen, he has a pompadour and wears a scarf indoors. His voice seems to have been dubbed.6 The track list for Marco Beltrami’s score – which itself is redolent of Danny Elfman’s Batman – is full of puns; like ‘Ice Wide Shut’ and ‘The Hole Family’. Dion Beebe’s cinematography is grey and dreary, indistinguishable from any of the other oeuvre, but very occasionally effective: as in an early storybook shot of a lone house on a snowy plain surrounded by snow-capped trees.
This is Alfredson’s first film in six years. It’s been a bad year for Fassbender, too, between this and Assassin’s Creed; another risible adaptation, that of a popular video-game. Whatever the reason, the studio now seems to be trying to bury it. Snow thaws, things come to light, but The Snowman isn’t worth two hours of digging through the slush.
Stay home and watch the Raymond Briggs version instead.
- For reasons unknown, the whole cast adopt English accents of varying calibres.
- Amini, for one, wrote and directed the more than passable Two Faces of January.
- One note I made simply reads ‘WHY?’.
- Who worked with and have won multiple Oscars for working with Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese respectively.
- There’s a game to be played based around how many bits from the trailer didn’t make it into the finished film. The Snowman may be second on that front only to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but that, for all my reservations, ended up as a fairly solid film.
- He looks distinctly unwell.