I laughed more during The Snowman than I probably should have given its subject matter. I wish I could sincerely apologize, but I cannot. This is a movie that comes closer to playing out like a parody of Scandinavian detective thrillers like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo than a straight-laced one. But it’s not quite bad or silly enough to get to that level. Instead, it’s just a dull, plodding, slightly incoherent mystery that never amounts to anything of consequence and will leave most viewers shrugging their shoulders with apathy. But it sometimes looks kind of pretty, I guess.
The laughter began—and, unfortunately, largely ended—when we learn the name of our protagonist, Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender). That is his name. In a super-serious movie about tracking a serial killer. Harry Hole! He’s an alcoholic (when the movie remembers) detective who soon enough teams up with Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) in order to solve a missing person’s case. It turns out that there are a string of missing people, and they wind up dead soon after disappearing. So, not really missing people. Murders.
The killer’s calling card is a crudely constructed snowman, which he leaves all around the place. We don’t know who he is, but the film will provide us with more than a couple of potentials, because red herrings are fun. There’s also a side story that takes place in the past, and the connection between the two will shock you! Much like that clickbait sentence, you will be disappointed. The Snowman is stupid and boring, joyless and uneventful. It also feels, and I mean this with the most possible respect, unfinished.
There are loose ends and characters that feel like they should mean more but don’t. The dialogue is poor, most of the time, like it could have been polished more. Almost all of Val Ki;mer‘s lines—oh, yeah, Val Kilmer is in this for some reason—have such horrible dubbing that you have to wonder if anyone actually watched the movie to try to sync the lines with what his mouth is doing. It feels like a quick hack-job, the type that a studio will do when nothing is working and the deadline is approaching—an attempt to salvage what is otherwise an incoherent disaster.
We have a serious movie whose protagonist’s name is “Harry Hole,” and there’s something magical about that.
What we get is still largely incoherent and mostly a disaster. But, I suppose, it eventually makes a degree of sense. We find out who the killer is and, kind of, what is motivation is. Other characters act shady just to try to generate a little bit of tension, there’s a whole subplot devoted to a J.K. Simmons character that’s just weird, and I can hear you already not caring through your screen. I’m yawning just typing it.
The bigger puzzle is not who the killer is, but how people of this talent made such a terrible movie. The director is Tomas Alfredson, who made the great Let the Right One In and the very solid Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He’s directing actors like Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones, and Chloë Sevigny. Martin Scorsese served as an executive producer and his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, shares an editing credit—my guess is that she was brought in, by him, to make a semi-intelligible picture out of scraps. How does all this talent combine in order to make dreck? Someday, maybe, we will find out.
Not even the acting is good. Fassbender looks constantly bored, Ferguson is given almost nothing to work with, Simmons’ accent is hilarious, and we’ll never know what on earth Kilmer is doing or why the awful dubbing took place. There’s no atmosphere, no tension or suspense, no reason for the audience to care and only half a reason for the characters to. Whatever happened during the translation of the novel to the big screen resulted in catastrophe.
The worst part, ultimately, is that The Snowman is just too boring to have any fun with. Taken a different way, it could have been a funny parody of these self-serious crime movies. Or, you know, it could have been good and been a film to rival The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As it stands, The Snowman is a gravely dull movie that never once engages the audience. When you’re halfway through and the theater exit door looks more attractive than sticking with it to the end just for the satisfaction of learning who did it, you know you’ve got a dud on your hands. But, hey, we have a serious movie whose protagonist’s name is “Harry Hole,” and there’s something magical about that.
Conclusion: The Snowman is awful. Dead on arrival. Stick a carrot nose in it. It’s done.
Recommendation: The Snowman is for nobody.