By Noah Howard
It’s never a good sign when a film’s first negative press comes from its director. Tomas Alfredson described the shooting schedule of “The Snowman” as abrupt and, upon discovering his failure to film up to 15 percent of the script, said that the editing process was “like when you’re making a big jigsaw puzzle, and a few pieces are mixing, so you don’t see the whole picture.”
To describe “The Snowman” merely as an incomplete puzzle would be generous. True, there are scenes that make little to no sense. Yes, there’s an entire story arc that’s abruptly dropped halfway through and never really serves any purpose. Indeed, the action scenes look cobbled together and are nearly impossible to comprehend in the heat of the moment, but “The Snowman” suffers from deeper problems.
This is partially the fault of the character of Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender), an Oslaw detective on the hunt for a serial killer who swaps his victims’ heads with those of snowmen. He’s the classic chain-smoking, binge-drinking anti-hero detective (partnered with a plucky rookie, of course) who not only fails to distinguish himself from every other detective in popular culture history but also fails to stand out from the other chain-smoking, binge-drinking anti-hero detective featured (played by Val Kilmer, whom I didn’t know was still alive and, judging by his performance, may not be). Apart from falling asleep in inexplicably bizarre places, Hole spends most of the film staring blankly into the lifeless Norwegian wilderness, as cold and emotionless as the landscape itself. Fassbender is a talented actor, but his performance as a robot in “Alien: Covenant” had more humanity than any part of “The Snowman.”
The script itself doesn’t fare much better. After a brisk introduction, it dawdles in the second act to throw around a string of storylines only to lead without any apparent connection and lacking in any clear path forward. A conspiracy behind a bid for the Olympic games, a mysterious abortion clinic and the detective’s increasingly awkward family life all lack momentum and for far too long seem to run parallel to each other without any larger significance. The third act is just as incompetent; the audience is able to discover the identity of the killer far before it is ever revealed, not because they cleverly pieced together the clues, but simply because the twists and red herrings are so painfully obvious that they can simply use process of elimination. The final confrontation in particular features Fassbender and the killer bumbling through a series of events so glaringly melodramatic and appallingly stupid that it comes off almost as parody.
Nevertheless, a director as talented as Alfredson manages to pull the some miniscule merit from his film’s rotting corpse. His distinctly gray, dispassionate style fits perfectly with the frigid landscape, and despite the film’s rushed shooting schedule, he took the time to craft a number of flawlessly composed shots that capture the movie’s untamed grace. Alfredson appreciates the beauty of brutality, not only in the unforgiving Norwegian winter but also in the artfulness of his villain’s slaughter. This is a movie that doesn’t shy away from gore but rather embraces it, hovering over the hollowed-out skull of the victim of a shotgun blast, circling a blank-eyed head as its blood freezes over a snowman’s body. The gore is glorious and pulls inspiration from films like “Seven” and shows like “Hannibal,” which display a similarly sick fascination with the dark artistry of murder.
Nevertheless, like the “girl” referenced on the promotional poster, “The Snowman” is far beyond saving. The disparate puzzle pieces hint at the complete picture; with the time it deserved and with the attention Alfredson was undoubtedly willing to give it, a forgettable yet competent movie could have come together. But in its current state, it’s easy to understand why, only days before its release, Alfredsen is already throwing his own work under the bus. “The Snowman” is a generic incomplete mess and can do little else but melt.
Contact Noah Howard at noah364 ‘at’ stanford.edu.