Director: Tomas Alfredson
Screenplay: Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan, Søren Sveistrup
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, J. K. Simmons
Runtime: 119 Minutes
The past decade has seen the emergence and swell of interest in the genre of Nordic Noir; police procedural dramas set within a world of moral complexity and desolate landscapes featuring jaded and disenchanted protagonists. Writers such as Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbø have flourished in international markets, and the slew of adaptations in both cinema and television has brought to the genre to a level of near oversaturation.
The Snowman, based on the Nesbø text, represents the arse end of the whole enterprise, and the point in which the now by-the-numbers foundations of the genre finally appear to have run their course. Little to nothing about this adaptation works, which hurts all the more because the cast and crew behind it are a group of talented individuals whose efforts lie utterly wasted in the production.
Although the seventh entry in the Harry Hole series, this has been positioned as the franchise starter and right from the start feels as if the blanks of the back-story are being either left behind or filled in with expositional dumps of unnatural dialogue exchanges. Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) is a conceptually interesting character; a brilliantly old-fashioned alcohol swigging detective whose apparently legendary status is what allows the police force to keep him on. There’s little evidence of this really onscreen as Hole stumbles his way through the plot and slowly piecing together the evidence to capture a grizzly serial killer.
The narrative is overstuffed with locations, side characters and side storylines in an effort to make its trite and incredibly dull mystery premise seem more sprawling and complicated than it actually is, taking detours into Norway’s bid for the Winter Olympics, Hole’s dysfunctional personal life, the back-story of partner Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) and even flashbacks to an earlier related case featuring a shockingly awful Val Kilmer in an extended cameo appearance.
Few of the strands really tie together, if even at all, and none of them are surprising or engaging – even the murders themselves become a parade of dull samey images of dismembered heads and body parts. Beyond one slightly interesting image of a snowman’s head placed upon a headless corpse, none of it is very shocking or provoking which is one of the few things the genre needs to get right.
The performances across the board are placid and safe, with Fassbender in particular clearly checked out in a year that has gone down as one of his very worst. Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg and even J. K. Simmons in a stiflingly arbitrary role fail to lift the film’s dour spirits even against its chilly climate. Its populated with familiar faces but nobody leaves an impact because the characters are one-dimensional stock types. Even while playing with a personal story for Hole, it’s hard to care when we’ve barely been given enough incentive to root for him beyond being told to because he’s the lead.
The filmmaking itself is unreasonably poor given director Tomas Alfredson’s past work. Other than looking nice at points its barely held together by an incoherent narrative structure and editing choices that either linger for too long on the wrong details, or dart between times and locations without reason other than to cover ground. Beyond the numerous continuity errors and unintentionally hilarious dubbed audio at times, the pace is a trudge through the snow that never picks up or gives a reason for taking the time that it does to set up the pieces, beyond compensating for an atmosphere that is totally devoid from the finished film.
The Snowman is a hatefully boring splat of empty nothingness. It gets by on the bare minimum requirements most of the time, but the half-baked destination that it leads too just isn’t worth the effort required to stay awake as it slowly drags its feet to the climax. The lip service it pays to Scandinavian industrial practices and the evolution of technology in the police force never informs theme or makes a statement beyond just presenting it. There is no franchise to be mined here, and proof that as a passing fad the movement has reached its end.