A few days ago, Tomas Alfredson, director of “The Snowman,” admitted that he couldn’t shoot “10 to 15 percent” of the script, because of a rushed production schedule. After watching the film, one wonders if Alfredson lowballed this estimate — entire plot threads freeze in their tracks — but one also realizes that shooting more of the film probably wouldn’t do much to rectify an unlikable lead and problematic storytelling, both of which don’t, ahem, snowball into anything significant.
“The Snowman” opens with a beautiful wide shot of a Norwegian snowscape, but it’s pretty much all downhill from there. Based on a series of novels by Jo Nesbø, “The Snowman” concerns a series of murders in Norway which are all connected by the snowmen left at the scene of the crime. It’s up to the unfortunately named Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) and Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) to find the identity of the killer.
Even though Fassbender brings his usual intensity to this film, Harry Hole is simply an unlikable character, rendering Fassbender’s performance irrelevant. His primary traits include falling asleep in awkward places and waking up dramatically, being less emotive than the multiple snowmen in this movie and drinking profusely, something most viewers will likely need to reciprocate for the sake of catharsis after watching this unfortunate disaster.
How Hole pulls himself together to solve this film’s mystery is a mystery worthy of its own movie, and it’s a wonder that he doesn’t fall asleep on an ice floe and wake up somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Sure, moody and troubled detectives are a staple of dark thrillers, but there’s really nothing redeeming about Hole, who recalls Inspector Clouseau more than he does Sherlock Holmes.
Then again, Hole isn’t really the one doing the best detecting. That credit goes to Bratt, and while Rebecca Ferguson seems poised to steal the show here, a la “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” her character gets sidelined in a frustrating narrative move that lets the ineffectual Hole bumble his way into saving the day.
The resolution of Bratt’s arc is one of many questionable decisions made by the filmmakers — including the choice to dub Val Kilmer’s lines. Though Kilmer’s tongue was swollen as a result of battling cancer, dubbing his lines with another actor’s voice only works to jar audiences out of the film, if they weren’t disengaged already.
Indeed, becoming disinterested in “The Snowman” is more or less inevitable. Certain plot threads disappear into thin air, and moments that are made to feel significant are ponderously, tenuously tied into the rest of the film. Summarizing how individual scenes relate to each other is a task of herculean proportions — following the film almost certainly requires a pen and paper, and one can easily see how Alfredson was missing key scenes.
Most significantly, though, “The Snowman” just isn’t a film that the world needs right now. It’s a film whose thrills are predicated on violence towards women, and it’s a tired and harmful trope, one that does this film no favors. Moreover, the film is just painstakingly cringe-worthy — “I’m thinking that he’s going after women that he disapproves of” is an actual line spoken in this film, written by actual writers and greenlit by actual studio heads.
The film doesn’t do enough to disavow its characters’ treatment of women either. One character in particular leverages his position of political power for sexual favors, and while he’s set up as a secondary villain, he doesn’t get the comeuppance he deserves. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it’s frustrating to see this film give its Weinstein-type a pass.
Ultimately, nobody knows what footage Alfredson couldn’t shoot, but unless it was a Mr. Freeze cameo with Arnold Schwarzenegger, there isn’t much that could have saved “The Snowman.” It’s truly surprising that Alfredson would follow up the Oscar-nominated “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” with a film sporting a 10 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a 25 on Metacritic (at the time of print — these could still go down).
“The Snowman” opens tonight at the United Artists Berkeley 7