The Snowman should have been a good movie. It had all the right ingredients. Top-notch cast? Check. Talented director whose last two films (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Let the Right One In) were critically acclaimed? Check. Based on a best-selling novel? Check.
And yet, the movie is terrible. One of the worst films I’ve seen all year.
In order to answer that question, let’s start with the film’s plot. The Snowman is based on the novel of the same name by Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbo. I haven’t read any of Nesbo’s books, so anything I say about the plot and characters of The Snowman will be based entirely on the film’s portrayal of them.
The main character is named Harry Hole. While this sounds like a horrible name for a main character, it’s worth mentioning that I read an interview with Nesbo where he said that the last name is pronounced “HO-leh”, and apparently it’s a common Norwegian name. But in the movie, everyone pronounces it like the word hole. You know, like something your dog would dig in the backyard.
And that dog-dug hole in the backyard is where this film belongs, because it sucks. The plot is ostensibly about Harry Hole’s search for a killer nicknamed The Snowman whose calling card is leaving snowmen at the scenes of his crimes. He also cuts off one victim’s head and uses it as the head of a snowman, which is thoroughly grisly.
But the movie never explores the killer’s psychology, and his motives are frustratingly thin. The movie never gets into his head and the viewer is left wondering why he does the things he does. Half the movie involves a bunch of boring subplots that, after thinking it over, seemed completely irrelevant to me. I didn’t see how half of it had anything to do with the killer. The movie completely fails as a psychological exploration of the mind of a madman. It also fails as a detective movie. There’s no compelling detective work, there’s no list of suspects, the entire thing just feels rushed. And apparently it was, since the director, Tomas Alfredson, has stated in interviews that 10-15% of the screenplay wasn’t even filmed. No wonder the film feels so incomplete. The subplots are pointless and the motivations of the characters either don’t make sense or are utterly nonexistent.
Think of other serial-killer movies. Specifically, the films of the brilliant David Fincher, like Se7en, Zodiac, and his version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In these films, the villain is kept offscreen for most of the movie, but the viewer can always feel the treat of him lurking on the edge of the screen, like he could emerge at any moment. That’s called atmosphere, and is another thing at which The Snowman utterly fails. The only thing atmospheric about The Snowman is the admittedly excellent cinematography, but the movie’s beautiful scenery can’t disguise its sheer emptiness.
And let’s talk about the main characters. Harry Hole is a detective played by Michael Fassbender, and his sidekick is a new recruit named Katrine Bratt, played by Rebecca Ferguson. Both actors are very talented, but their characters are poorly written and they have almost no chemistry. They don’t even have a compelling reason for joining forces. Hole bums a ride off her, and since he’s bored he starts reading her files while she’s out of the car.
Really? That’s it? God, this movie is so half-assed. Of all the films I’ve seen this year, this one feels incomplete. It just feels rushed and unfinished. For example, Val Kilmer is in the movie for a couple of scenes, and he looks awful. What the hell happened to Val Kilmer, he looks like The Ghost That Ate Val Kilmer. He doesn’t even sound like Val Kilmer. His dialogue doesn’t even match up very well with his lip movements, which makes me think that his dialogue was hastily and sloppily dubbed over by another actor. Really? Just…really?
I don’t even know what to say about this movie, it’s just terrible. Michael Fassbender is a great actor, but he’s completely wasted in this movie. The movie portrays Hole as an alcoholic detective and there’s nothing to him beyond that. Anyone could have played the role in this movie. The Snowman is Jo Nesbo’s seventh Harry Hole book, and the movie implies that he’s been hunting down bad guys for quite some time. Katrine tells him that his cases are studied at the police academy, but it’s not enough to establish him as the brilliant detective everyone says he is. If you’re a fan of Jo Nesbo’s books and you think I’m not being fair to the character, keep in mind that everything I’m saying is based off the movie’s piss-poor portrayal of him. I have no doubt that Hole is a more compelling character on the page, because in this film he’s not compelling at all, and neither is anyone or anything else.
The movie desperately wants to be the next Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but it’s not going to with such awful execution. The movie has an abysmal 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and scraped together an equally-abysmal $3.4 million over its opening weekend. It’s one of the biggest cinematic failures of the year, a shockingly inept piece of hackwork that had a ton of potential but managed to squander every last bit of it. It’s really a shame. I’ll have to read Nesbo’s book at some point, because I have a feeling that this half-baked adaptation of his work doesn’t do it any form of justice. The movie ends abruptly without any sense of resolution, and leaves the viewer feeling cold.
If you want to see a good movie based on a Jo Nesbo novel, you should see the Norwegian film Headhunters. Or, you can tune in next week, since I’ll be writing about it then. It’s a terrific movie that I’ve been meaning to write about for some time, and I figure with no major new releases hitting this week, next week will be the perfect time to talk about it. See you then!