My god I really wanted to like The Snowman.
Now, and only now (12 months after it was released) do I feel able to talk about it – it’s that fucking bad.
It’s often said in creative circles, if you assemble the right talent, there’s the potential to produce something greater than the sum of its parts. The Snowman makes a case for diminishing returns based on this concept. The weight of poorly utilised talent can sink a film faster than an ill-placed Volvo on a cracked frozen lake.
From the same team that brought us the triumphant Tinker Tailor remake, The Snowman is a perplexing experience.
The film opens with all the reposit Scandi noir set-ups, but as we come to learn from the film, it’s all set-ups and no pay-offs.
Tomas Alfredson’s creation continually short changes the audience throughout by shafting our expectations on all aspects from under-utilising actors, refusing to honour cinematic norms, forcing too many characters, locations and plot points and in some cases, making maddening errors in tonal judgement.
On a number of occasions The Snowman actually made me laugh out loud due to it’s schlocky presentation of a plot point. I’d joke as the cameras panned around, “If I see one of those stupid snow man faces, I’ll piss myself” – cue menacing snow man face. It’s not scary, it’s stupid, breaking any investment made in the characters and story. From the stupid snow faces of death to Chloë Sevigny’s promiscuous twins channeling Twin Peaks.
The story – yes I think there is one – is centered around Harry Hole, played by Michael Fassbender. Harry is a Norwegian detective with an illustrious career (cliché alert) who’s turned to alcoholism in order to deal with his personal problems. Burnt out cop? Yep it’s all making for a highly original set-up.
Fassbender’s performance is chaotic. He’s an anti-hero who is so short on likability that towards the end, I felt uninvested to the point of not caring if he survived or not. His broken personae and love of booze sees him pissed up and sleeping in all manner of frozen doorways. But beyond this, his interactions with everyone ring hollow. From his on/off relationship with Charlotte Gainsbourg, (who’s left to do some much needed character exposition), to his continual failure in some unexplained father-son relationship, is he the dad/why does he care sub-plot.
On a positive note, his general lack of due care and attention seem to have totally missed the Police’s HR department who seem blind to him missing days off work and turning up to the station wankered. There’s not a single mention of a performance review – phew!
But he’s not the only wasted resource. There’s a mumbling Val Kilmer who, fresh from throat cancer surgery, is barely understandable as he mumbles about drunk – the only consistent theme throughout. Tobey Jones is criminally underused, as is J.K Simmons as a pervy CEO in a blink-and-you’ll-miss it cameo.
But the person who seems to come off worse still is Rebecca Ferguson. She’s the one actor who seems committed to the stupid plot and is without much care bumped off in the last third of the film – squandering the only bit of investment I had left. In many ways her character, despite some initial duplicity, is asking the questions I was screaming at the screen. She was our only hope at some semblance of sense, but is struck off without any care or attention.
In summary, don’t waste your time on The Snowman when multiple Scandi TV counterparts offer a much more coherent experience. In its heart it wants to be as clever as the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but ends up looking like a director who simply didn’t have a clue.