Not in the least bit shocking, the internet has completely oversold just how strange and/or awful the latest work from director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Let the Right One In) actually is. If anything, The Snowman (based on the novel by Jo Nesbø) is dull and predictable—two descriptions that often go skipping down the lane, hand-in-hand, in elaborate and unnecessarily complicated mysteries. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the film is the strange mix of actors’ nationalities and accents, all pretending to be somewhere on the color-wheel of Norwegian through a British filter. It may be baffling and distracting, but certainly not interesting enough to be labeled “weird.”
The basic overview involves a series of murders that begins with the first snowfall of a long winter. There’s a concern that a serial killer may have returned, which means an elite team of detectives is put on the case, led by resident sloppy drunk, Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender—emphasis on the bender). The killer’s calling card is that he somehow incorporates a rather sinister looking snowman at each of his crime scenes, which is about as boring and non-threatening as it sounds. He’s also big into dismemberment and uses an interesting device to remove heads and limbs. The thing seems like piano wire attached to a handheld motor, and I was constantly distracted during the film, thinking “Did he build that himself? What other purpose does that device have besides sawing off limbs?”
Hole enlists the help of a whipsmart recruit, Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson), and with their team, they not only investigate the new murders but also start tying them to decades-old cold cases. The Snowman zigs and zags around these crimes and the surrounding community, and if for no other reason, the film is interesting for giving us a real sense of what life in and around Oslo is like. The story digs deep into Hole’s personal life, as he is still connected to his ex-girlfriend Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg), his son Oleg (Michael Yates), and her new boyfriend Mathias (Jonas Karlsson). And yes, eventually it all factors into the case, but until we get there at the film’s end, it’s truly not an interesting relationship.
The film also has ties to past investigations, including one (seen in flashbacks) involving an investigator played by Val Kilmer. I feel bad for the guy, but every minute he’s onscreen, I was uncomfortable, and it sounds like his voice is dubbed. The local business community is also tied into the investigation in ways I’m not sure I understand, but it allows a rogue’s gallery of great supporting players, such as as J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones, David Dencik, and James D’Arcy, a chance to chew up a little scenery, even if it seems like they are trying to out-creep each other.
Ferguson and Gainsbourg are the only performers who shine any light on this work. The filmmakers take full advantage of the snow-covered locations, so having Fassbender essentially slink between sequences seems like overkill. We get it, he’s a drunk; now let’s focus up, people! There’s a certain amount of shock value to some of the kills, but aside from that, The Snowman is decidedly lacking in anything resembling tension or suspense. Director Alfredson is a master at organizing complicated storylines and unveiling them in a way that (mostly) makes sense. But he drops the ball here and gives us one too many threads to keep track of, and so they all start to unravel. It’s not a terrible film, but for most of this impressive cast and crew, it’s likely the worst things on their filmography. In a week of subpar new releases, this rests far too comfortably among them.