Release Date: October 20th, 2017
Director: Tomas Alfredson
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 119 Minutes
The question of what exactly went wrong with the winter serial killer fiasco The Snowman will, I hope, puzzle critics and audiences alike for years because, even after seeing it in all its ludicrous glory, there is no satisfying answer.
What were they thinking releasing this tonally confused, horrendously clichéd absurdity masquerading as a cold-blooded police procedural that plays like director Tomas Alfredson has never seen one before? How did the fascinating director of Let the Right One In and a cast and crew of legitimate talent adapt a beloved thriller novel and wind up with something beneath everyone one involved? Why, in the name of God, are snowmen supposed to be terrifying?
The Snowman is a masterclass in wrongheadedness that might actually fail so completely that it falls off the scale of quality and rebounds into one of the most enjoyable films to be released this year.
While the ridiculously named Harry Hole might be a household character in Alfredson’s native Sweden, his rendering for his big screen debut leaves a lot to be desired, playing a detective partnered up with an eager newbie to hunt down a serial killer who toys with their investigation constantly.
Played by Michael Fassbender in a series of disinterested, melancholic expressions, Harry Hole (created by Jo Nesbø and the Swedes’ answer to a Sherlock Holmes-type) is your run-of-the-mill, chainsmoking, washed-up, alcoholic detective who, stop me if you’ve heard this before, is a bit of a loose cannon.
Describing The Snowman as meagerly going through the motions of a crime drama barely scratches the surface of what is wrong with this film. Through its maddening plot, awful direction and inane script, The Snowman somehow manages to misuse its own clichés and blunder the steps laid out for it.
The serial killer hunt as a narrative demands a lot of its directors. They have to divide themselves between their main character and their killer, showing the parallels between them as they each try to get into the other’s head. They have build the investigation from the onset, littering their film with moments of revelation that ratchet up the stakes and tension in a way that feels natural and emphatic. And, possibly most importantly, this specific kind of film requires subtlety so that the audience can find the hunt believable, the hero sympathetic and relatable, and the killer a frightening threat whose presence is felt in every scene.
If you haven’t been able to tell by the “Mister Police” poster that was instantly made into a meme, The Snowman doesn’t have a subtle bone in its bulbous body and never once tries to hide this fact. Its killer is a joke so poorly investigated by Harry Hole that the audience never gets a motive or opportunity to find him intimidating. (The notes and snowmen in the trailers, supposedly his calling card, are never addressed in the film or act as evidence.)
The case and its investigation are drawn with muddled details and shot, thanks particularly to an off-her-game Thelma Schoonmaker, in a needlessly intense manner preoccupied with panning zoom shots that make every scene look overly dramatic. Harry Hole (I’ll never be tired of that name) is a blank slate of a character possessing no arc, personality or even apparent skill to warrant a reputation as a detective. Plodding along as it does, the film comes to a head with a terribly predictable reveal and a bitter realization that the majority of what Alfredson led with never amounted to anything substantial in the conclusion.
The Snowman is a failure, a disaster, a feat of unmatched incompetence and idiocy…which I recommend highly. Failure such as this needs not only to be witnessed, but studied and mulled over for years to come. Like a beautiful trainwreck on the Bergen Line, The Snowman self-destructs in a way that never grates against a captive audience but allows them to enjoy the disaster they are witnessing in raucous humour.
“So bad it’s good” may be an overused phrase nowadays, but I legitimately cannot imagine anyone mustering up sincere frustration at something as quaint, pathetic and ill-conceived as The Snowman. The rating it is given will stand, but on every account this is a secret success well worth your time, Mister Police.