The Snowman is one of those occasional movies throughout a given year that seems to lack any ambition to be interesting in its own way. It’s not an Emoji Movie where it panders hopelessly to a target audience and fails at every attempt, and it’s not a Batman v Superman that pretends to be epic in scale and substance but falls flat due to its overconfidence and lack of self-awareness. It’s the unaspiring C+ student that thinks for a moment about all the things he could achieve if he really put some work and thought into it, and then decides it’s not worth the effort and puts his homework down to go pass out on a couch somewhere. It’s like an episode of a broadcast TV crime series in its nth season that doesn’t feel any need to push genre limits or do anything the series hasn’t done before. It makes sense that The Snowman is based on a novel which is the seventh in a series, because I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was already supposed to know who the main character was and what problems he’s had in his past. Too many character-building moments were either glossed over or totally discarded in favor of, as far as I could tell, nothing interesting.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell how much of this was built-in to the story from the beginning, and how much was a result of time and budget restraints. Director Tomas Alfredson (of Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy acclaim) has been clear in interviews that he and his crew were rushed during production and thus had little to work with in post. Certain scenes in the theatrical product feel oddly juxtaposed, as if something else belonged in between, and most characters seemed to lack an arc of any sort. And yet the problems don’t seem to be totally symptomatic of a hurried shoot; some seem inherent in the story itself. I can’t think of a way in which detective Harry Hole (played as best he could by Michael Fassbender) grew, changed, or developed throughout the film. It was like just another episode in his many dark, twisted crime adventures; one that had little personal effect on him on the whole, despite the outcome having significant connection to his personal life. And his partner Katrine, played by Rebecca Ferguson, gets the “Bond girl” treatment (minus the sexualization, fortunately) as what little of an arc she has is reduced to nothing two-thirds of the way through the film.
It’s a shame, because the cinematography is actually quite nice, at least in large chunks throughout. DoP Dion Beebe harnesses a beautiful starkness in which to render Norway’s snowy landscapes and the creaky interiors of Harry’s investigation. But at times the camera seems to forget its own standards and drops into chaotic, clunky movement that confuses and disorients the viewer.
Likewise, the sound design and voice-over work added in post-production is rampantly obvious and out of sync throughout. Val Kilmer, who has been dealing with oral cancer for the past year-plus, struggles not only on camera to move his mouth properly, but also in the sound booth to speak clearly. It’s hard to blame someone dealing with such an affliction, but could it at least be possible to get it to match up with what’s on screen? To boot, Val isn’t the only one with issues, and he’s the only one who gets a pass. He’s barely in the movie, which also helps his case.
Admittedly, Fassbender gives another solid performance as a tired, hollowed-out justice-seeker, though the dialogue does him no favors, and he’s beginning to feel a bit type-cast. Magneto from X-Men and Brandon from Shame feel all-too called-upon in this sadly-named “Harry Hole” character. Otherwise, the cast is unremarkable; especially offensive is the underuse of J. K. Simmons, currently one of the most riveting actors working.
Narratively, The Snowman isn’t bad. It’s nothing particularly special, and it takes about an hour and 20 minutes to get particularly interesting, but it isn’t bad. It’s just formulaic. A detective and his partner find one body after another, and each begin theorizing who could be behind it, only to find out that the killer was closer to their lives than they could have imagined. It’s a by-the-numbers psychopath mystery, complete with a killer whose fascination with a particular motif (it’s in the title) ultimately has nothing to do with the story or its themes. There are small moments of revelation and intrigue, but these amount to glimmers among long stretches of dull, rehashed tropes. The climax, which I had anticipated being the one section to possibly elevate the film, based on how things appeared to be ramping up, is incredibly underwhelming and–most disappointingly–tame.
Without an arc for its protagonist (or really anyone), and feeling particularly underdeveloped and trimmed-down, The Snowman can’t make much of an impression. It simply feels stagnant, and it will likely remain frozen in the barren wasteland of forgettable films of 2017.
- Cinematography, at least part of the time
- Fassbender's performance, kind of(?)
- Rehashed crime drama narrative
- Incoherently cut and structured
- Sound issues out the wazoo
- Waste of J.K. Simmons
- Takes too long to get interesting
- Doesn't pay off well enough in the end