Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Chloe Sevigny
Running Time: 119 minutes
Release Date: October 13th
With The Snowman, director Tomas Alfredson and cinematographer Dion Beebe have created a starkly beautiful film that is unfortunately more style than substance. Based on the novel by Jo Nesbo, this is no cheery animated feature. The snowman in question is not a loveable goof such as Olaf from Frozen – it is the calling card of a serial killer, who leaves a freshly-built one at each crime scene.
The Snowman is the seventh book in Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, and it is clear that this is a precursory foray into what could potentially become a franchise along the lines of the Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. Michael Fassbender plays the alcoholic detective Harry Hole, a character hitting almost every well-worn trope of the supposedly brilliant maverick detective who plays by his own rules and has intense inner emotional turmoil. Hole is drawn into the case of a missing woman that Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), a newcomer to the force, is convinced is not an isolated incident. This sets them on the trail of a mysterious serial killer who toys with Hole in an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse.
The concept is an interesting one, and sets high hopes for a fast-paced, twisting thriller. Unfortunately, these hopes are dashed. Fassbender tries his best to give an engaging performance as Hole, which is a testimony to his talents as the character gives us very little to root for. He is surrounded by supportive, devoted people and honestly, we are given no indication as to why. His reputation as an incredible detective is not overtly justified either, as most of the work in this case is done by Detective Bratt. Ferguson does her best to create an emotive performance while again being given little to work with.
The Snowman has moments of suspense that are effective. Innocuous, playful things such as snowballs and snowmen become harbingers of doom. Initially, it seems as though there will be a slow-building rise of tension creating the edge-of-your-seat sensation that leads to an action packed third act. Unfortunately, the third act is arguably the weakest part of the film, while the preceding events of the film move at a glacial pace filled with ineffective red herrings and half formed subplots. That being said, the build-up is still more effective than the reveal. Just as so often in horror films the reveal of the ‘monster’ can diffuse the tension, the final ‘twist’ in The Snowman does not come across as overly surprising and, by the time the film makes its way towards it, it’s hard to care.
As is all too often the case with serial killer narratives, women do not fare well in this film. While there are a few somewhat assertive female characters, they orbit around Hole. The underlying premise feels a little close to home at the moment, especially as the killer’s victims are essentially being punished for the sins of their fathers. At times, it makes for uncomfortable viewing.
One highlight of the film is the cinematography: it is beautifully shot. Oslo and Norway provide stunning scenery, the bleak beauty of snow-capped plains and mountains emphasising the emotional and physical isolation of the film’s characters. It’s unfortunate that the plot does not have a similar impact.
The Snowman is not the worst film to be released this year. It is also nowhere near the best. It is watchable, but forgettable. While its talented stars do their best to breathe life into it, what had the potential to be a chilling, engaging thriller leaves its audience cold.