There are a lot of experiences that can come out of watching a terrible film. It could be so ineptly made, that you can’t help but laugh at the low quality. It could be so boring and dull, that you don’t even care what’s happening on the screen. It could just be confusing and illogical, not making any sense, no matter how much you pay attention. It can appear completely unfinished, and that nobody truly had their heart in the material. It’s rare when one terrible film shares all of these traits. 

During the first snow of winter in Norway, Birte Becker (Genevieve O’Reilly) disappears. Days later, her body is found, cut up into many pieces, with a small snowman left as a calling card. Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) is called in to investigate, and he believes it to be the work of The Snowman serial killer. With the help of new recruit Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), Harry tries to follow any clues he can and catch the killer before the next snowfall comes. 

One of the things that makes a good mystery film so engaging is becoming part of the investigation yourself. You know just as much as the characters do, and it’s fun trying to piece the clues together along with them. The Snowman has a great concept and mystery, but it would be nice if it wasn’t such a slog to get through. Aside from the occasional taunting note from the killer, there are hardly any clues for the characters or audience to investigate. A lot of it just them walking and looking around, or staring at a computer screen. Like any other murder story, there are of course red herrings along the way, but when their involvement into the story is so complicated, it’s hard to stay invested. After reading a synopsis of the novel after seeing this, I was shocked they didn’t just go with that. It was so needlessly incoherent here, trying to incorporate big conspiracies into what should have been a simple story. Even Thelma Schnoonmaker, quite possibly the greatest film editor of all time, couldn’t stitch this mess into something meaningful.

I don’t have an issue with complicated narratives, but in The Snowman, absolutely nothing makes sense. The plot is all over the place, never taking any time to properly establish characters or story elements. Director Tomas Alfredson is known for his methodical pacing in films like Let the Right One In and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. That style of directing just doesn’t fit The Snowman at all. When our heroes receive a phone call tipping them off about a missing person, we should feel the same sense of urgency they do. You don’t really get that when there are numerous flat, wide shots of cars just driving, or people trudging through snow. By the time the killer’s identity was revealed, I was so checked out by that point, that I had absolutely no emotional reaction. Honestly, I can’t think of any reaction I had aside from boredom, because the film was devoid of any sort of tone. It at least looks great, with Alfredson incorporating the unique Scandinavian aesthetic into some very striking imagery. 

Character motivations don’t go much further beyond “we need to catch this guy”, with no actual growth or depth added along the way. I honestly can’t tell you anything about Harry’s character, aside from the fact that he’s a detective with family issues. Michael Fassbender really needs a new agent, because he certainly hasn’t been picking the best projects lately. He gets nothing to do here, just moping around, hardly even changing his facial expressions. The only character with any sort of development is Katrine, but it’s nothing more than your standard rookie cops gets way in over her head narrative. Val Kilmer also makes a really bizarre appearance, having his voice oddly dubbed over in his few dialogue scenes. I know Kilmer had cancer a few years ago, so that may have something to do with his performance, but it was really odd and kind of sad to see. There’s just so much talent here that’s wasted and given nothing to do. 

It turns out this film had quite a complicated production history. Martin Scorsese was originally attached to direct, but then stepped down to executive produce. Tomas Alfredson then took over, and according to him, the entire production was very rushed. So much so, that apparently 10-15% of the screenplay was never actually filmed. All of those production troubles are represented on screen 100%, as I had no idea what was going on the entire time while I was watching The Snowman. There’s no real mystery, no dramatic thrust, no characters to care about, and the plot feels scattered and muddled. It’s probably the most incomprehensible and unengaging film I’ve seen all year. 


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