The Snowman combines the properties of two of the worst movies in recent memory: Assassin’s Creed’s waste of talent, and Collateral Beauty’s sheer insanity. Is it as insane as Collateral Beauty? No, there are no immortal metaphysical beings involved in The Snowman. But it’s about as nuts as a movie without immortal metaphysical beings can be. Based on a novel by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, The Snowman is about an alcoholic detective in Oslo named Harry Hole. Yes, that’s right: Harry Hole. His name is Harry Hole and no ever makes a single joke about it. You know The Snowman takes place in a fantastical alternate reality because every time Harry Hole introduces himself, no one laughs for five solid minutes. Michael Fassbender should win a special Oscar for delivering the line, “I’m Harry Hole,” with a straight face. (It’s the Christian Bale Made This Face Memorial Oscar, for the record.) HARRY HOLE.
Originally Martin Scorsese was going to direct, but in a late-stage switch, it ended up being Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) behind the camera. Surely this makes The Snowman more authentically Nordic? Not really, no. It looks like any episode of the BBC version of Wallander. There are some nice shots of snowy landscapes, but David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is more icily Scandinavian. Although there is this design detail where no one in the entire movie has blinds on their windows. Not one person. It’s like an entire country of people who have never heard of window treatments. Can anyone verify if this is a real Scandinavian thing?
Also, Alfredson openly admits, because of limited shooting days, they did not actually film the entire script, leaving 10-15% of it undone. It’s a minor miracle—and a testament to the skills of editors Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s long-time editor, and Claire Simpson—that the movie isn’t completely incoherent. As is, it’s just kind of confusing as scenes happen almost independently of one another. A few manage to connect in meaningful ways, like a seemingly harmless conversation later providing a vital clue about the killer’s identity, but there’s a subplot involving JK Simmons as a local politician that is meant to be one of the red herring plots but it’s so wonky and underdeveloped it’s just out of place.
It’s supposed to be that a recently transferred detective, Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson), has followed a suspect, Arve Stop (Simmons), from another city, where she thinks he murdered his lover. Or knew about who murdered his lover? Or paid someone to do it? Still not 100% sure why she was so convinced Arve Stop was the killer, except that she keeps saying he is. Maybe that’s the missing thread from the script. That plot also ties into flashback scenes of Detective Rafto (Val Kilmer) investigating a murder. Kilmer’s performance is interesting, to say the least, but it may be due more to his battle with oral cancer than any deliberate eccentricity. But it’s Val Kilmer. At this point, who can tell?
Everyone in The Snowman has a different accent, which plays for comedy in The Death of Stalin, a comedy, but is just another hilarious detail in The Snowman, which is not (intentionally) a comedy. The Snowman is the kind of movie that is graphic about heads blown off by shotguns and appendages getting severed, but also features Chloe Sevigny playing twins—one twin is good and the other is bad—and a killer who writes notes to “Mister Police”, which is never not funny. He signs the notes with a snowman, which he also builds in the vicinity of his victims, to mark them.
Harry Hole (!!!) never figures out the bit about the snowmen, he just magically knows about them at a critical moment, because he is a “famous detective” whose cases are “studied at the academy”. He’s the Scandinavian Sherlock Holmes except instead of being a super genius, he’s an alcoholic. Which should make for a good movie, but it doesn’t. Thanks to the missing information from the script and the barely-cohesive mess that results, The Snowman is an accidentally funny movie about graphic serial murder. At least it’s not boring. You’re too busy trying to follow the plot, not laugh at Harry Hole’s name, and wondering where are all the curtains are to be bored.