Serial murders! Creepy snowmen! Beautiful, barren wintry landscapes! Michael Fassbender, thigh deep in snow drifts! All of that, plus Tomas Alfredson, the director of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Let The Right One In — what could possibly go wrong?
You should seriously go watch The Snowman, and then tell me. Because I don’t know. I don’t know how it all went so wrong. Hell, I don’t even know WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED IN THE MOVIE! I’ve talked to multiple people, and none of us can come to a consensus on what the fuck we watched.
Part of this may be because, Alfredson himself has explained, “Our shoot time in Norway was way too short, we didn’t get the whole story with us and when we started cutting we discovered that a lot was missing.” He estimates that about 10-15% of the screenplay just didn’t get filmed. At all.
Presumably those missing script pages were the ones that explained the motivations behind literally everything.
What I can tell you about this movie is that it’s based on the seventh in a series of bestselling Norwegian crime novels by author Jo Nesbø. The books all revolve around a brilliant alcoholic detective named Harry Hole. Don’t laugh — “Hole” is not pronounced the way you think it is.
Except, of course, in this movie. Where Michael Fassbender plays Harry Hole and it is definitely pronounced exactly the way you’re laughing about.
The thing is, Fassbender is still Fassbender. Even when he’s lying drunk in an alley he’s still a charming, captivating presence. We know he’s the protagonist because everything revolves around him (and because he’s Michael Fassbender). But since this is based on the seventh novel in the series, we don’t know anything about why he is the way he is — or why we should care. For example: Harry has a complicated relationship with his ex-girlfriend Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her son, Oleg. Despite his alcoholism and dedication to solving crimes, Harry still tries to be a father figure to the boy, and it’s clear that Rakel still has feelings for her ex (though she has moved on and is in a serious relationship with a doctor). A lot of time is dedicated to the dynamics of this relationship, because it is relevant to the climax of the mystery. But without the actual backstory, none of it has any weight.
It’s that way with everything that happens in the movie. The plot plods along, revealing information too early or too late for impact, and sometimes you sense that key information was NEVER revealed — yet events happen anyway. It’s the story equivalent of a series of shrugs.
The fact the film managed to clock in at just under two hours despite missing so many vital parts of the script gives the impression that they just started letting scenes run on and on in editing. For the first hour of the film there are basically three set-ups:
- Character looks through window and/or is seen through window
- Character looks meaningfully at another character while saying nothing
- OMG SNOWMAN!
OK, so, the snowmen thing. There is a serial killer loose in Norway, targeting women. The connection between the cases is that the women all have kids of uncertain paternity, and somebody has set up a snowman by the scene of each woman’s disappearance. Oh, and the killer is sending handwritten notes to Harry Hole, because he definitely doesn’t want the best drunk detective in Norway to find him, amirite?
(Sidenote: the creepiest thing about the snowmen isn’t that they sometimes have human heads, or are sometimes built on human bodies. It’s that they’re only made of two snowballs. One for the body. One for the head. They’re squat and wrong and where the fuck is the middle snowball?!)
There are two flashback stories, which tie into the proceedings in different ways. One involves a boy witnessing his mom have sex with a cop, who is clearly supporting her financially, on the down low. His mom says that the boy is the man’s son (not sure if the boy comprehended that, though), and then the dude leaves and the mom chases and for some reason decides to drive her car onto thin ice and kill herself and the boy. The boy escapes.
The other flashback involves a dismembered woman, a rich businessman (J.K. Simmons) and a different alcoholic Norwegian detective, played by Val Kilmer. And while it was surprisingly nice to see Kilmer in a movie again (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 4eva!), he clearly was still recovering from surgery and dubbing his lines over in post. It was distracting.
Harry partners with a new detective named Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson), who is the one that actually starts piecing together the connections between the missing women. Harry is mostly just along for the ride at first (literally - he’s an alcoholic and has no license). But she seems to have her own agenda, which she’s investigating on the side. Does it connect to the case?
No, seriously, I’m asking. Does it? I can’t tell.
Here’s the thing: the film is visually stunning. The cinematography is gorgeous, with only a few laughably bad sections of CGI marring it. The cast, which also includes favorites like Chloë Sevigny (as twins!), James D’Arcy, and Toby Jones, is superb. They don’t all get to do a whole lot, but they add to the strange cold, distant atmosphere precisely because they’re so recognizable and so underused. With all of that, plus fucking death snowmen, it’s a fascinating film for a long time.
And then it all melts away, leaving you with nothing but a puddle of confusion.
But seriously, go watch it and tell me how everything connects (no cheating by reading the novel first!). Or just get drunk and go for fun! I know I’m being harsh about this movie, but it might be a new addition to my list of “Movies To Watch While Really Fucked Up.” The top of that list is, of course, Southland Tales — which makes more sense than The Snowman.