Bestselling source material from an acclaimed crime author, a standout cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson and J.K Simmons, and a Swedish director with a resume boasting Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The result? Ugh.
Based on the book of the same name by author Jo NesbÃ¸ (Headhunters), The Snowman stars Fassbender as alcoholic detective Harry Hole, who manages to put the bottle down to investigate the murders being conducted by a snowman-making serial killer. Joining forces with a new recruit, Katrine Bratt (Ferguson), Harry finds himself on the tail of an elusive killer who may very well be connected to cold cases from decades ago.
On paper, quite literally – since this is a book adaptation, there was the recipe for an intense cat-and-mouse chiller with horror elements. Alas, The Snowman takes so many steps in the wrong direction it’s hard to know where exactly it all starts to go wrong. Actually, no, it isn’t that hard; the stumbles begin almost immediately.
Giving us the backstory to a serial killer by showing us their childhood can work a treat, assuming, of course, it’s handled well and delivered with enough of a wallop to ensure we can understand – or remotely care for – some of the reasons this kid will grow up wanting to hurt others. Instead, what we’re handed is a somewhat awkwardly performed, poorly edited and all-round heavy handed intro that clumsily attempts to give our mystery killer some context. It’s a lackluster start, and it’s ultimately indicative of what will follow for almost 2 hours.
Hole is, for the most part, an adequate enough protagonist. His addiction is presented early on (we meet him waking up at a children’s playground, no doubt following a bender), and the almost-always reliable Fassbender wears the character’s self-abuse well, even if he’s looking a little bored throughout. His relationship with his ex (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her son (Michael Yates) is a welcome addition, but ultimately doesn’t give our lead character much more depth. Hole’s characterisation is mostly surface value stuff, without much cause for effect, so thankfully Fassbender’s natural screen presence does most of the work.
While Ferguson is also quite solid, doing what she can with the often obvious dialogue, Katrine simply isn’t given enough to do. When her character’s motivations are finally explored, there’s little impact, particularly since it doesn’t really affect the current situation at hand.
The key problem to The Snowman is that it, surprisingly, feels amateurish. The overall narrative doesn’t flow well, the pacing is frustratingly slow (even with things actually happening), and a dull, emotionless tone plagues the dry twists and turns – not to mention the almost unnecessary flashbacks. As mentioned, the screenplay holds some seriously transparent dialogue, with the amount of subtlety and depth you’d get in an episode of [insert clichÃ©d crime-of-the-week series here].
Director Tomas Alfredson, who showed off great skill with Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, seems to, for some bizarre reason, be in over his head here. The direction is strangely sub par; blandly staged sequences without much sense of rhythm. The editing also doesn’t fare too well, which is a big shock considering you have Oscar winners Claire Simpson (Platoon, The Reader) and Thelma Schoonmaker (The Departed, Goodfellas) with the scissors.
It’s not a complete ride off though. The stunning Norwegian countryside is used well and captured beautifully by Oscar winning D.O.P. Dion Beebe (Memoirs of a Geisha, Collateral), and a nod must also go to composer Marco Beltrami (The Hurt Locker, Logan), whose score manages to spark up some tension when much else doesn’t.
There’s a solid cast and some talented names behind the camera, but it doesn’t work. Don’t bother; you’ll have zoned out long before the almost laughably lame final showdown comes around, which is before the tacked-on sequel opener, mind you. Yes, The Snowman is quite a disappointment.
THE REEL SCORE: 3/10