A dark thriller adapted from a bestselling novel by Norwegian crime write Jo Nesbo. Directed by Tomas Alfredson, who brought up scintillating vampire horror Let the Right One In. Starring the magnificent Michael Fassbender and rising Swedish star Rebecca Ferguson, along with a terrific supporting cast that includes Charlotte Gainsburg, J K Simmons, Chloe Sevigny and Toby Jones.
What could possibly go wrong???
First a bit of set-up. The mighty Fassbender plays Harry Hole (pronounced Huuule in the original Norwegian apparently, but in the film it’s plain ‘Hole’). He’s an alcoholic police detective shaking off his vodka brain-fuzz to investigate serial murder. The film’s psycho-du-jour waits till the Scandi winter sets in, so he can build a snowman close to each of his victims for some reason rooted deep in his deranged mind. Rebecca Ferguson joins Fassbender as an out-of-town rookie and they set off investigating together (or mostly apart as it turns out). There are secrets and political conspiracies and personal baggage – lots going on in what I’m told worked very well in the original page-turner of a novel.
But it doesn’t work here at all.
It’s clearly not director Alfredson’s fault. His 2011 adaptation of Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy makes smart work of a hugely intricate spy thriller and the actual look of The Snowman film is an icy kind of gorgeous. The problem, as the director himself explains (click here for more on this), is a screenplay that went partially unshot. Adapting a complex, multi-layered crime story with all its sub-plots and red herrings, along with central characters the viewer hasn’t met before, requires a sense of coherence that’s disappointingly lacking, due to pieces of plot going clean missing. Two editors are credited, like the whole thing was overhauled several times in the in post-production to try and undo the damage. It proved a task too great.
The result is ramshackle storytelling that doesn’t hold together, or the audience’s interest. Taking the tale of a cheesewire-wielding killer on the rampage and draining it of all dramatic tension requires some doing, but that’s what has miraculously been achieved through these gnarly production issues. I thought while watching that I was one espresso short of a fully functioning brain, but in truth the reasons for my confusion lay elsewhere.
Fassbender’s presence can do nothing to lift proceedings. As Hole he’s brooding and wracked with demons, but there are few hints as to why. Ferguson makes something of her back story through empathetic acting, but it’s simply not enough. And the two of them do so little actual communicating, even when they’re in scenes together, that it’s ultimately hard to care about either. As for the other name actors, they pop briefly in and out of a rambling messy story, like the killer has chopped down their scenes along with his victims. The whole thing is additionally dull and devoid of humour, and even sporadic bursts of crime scene gore can’t enliven it.
There are two additional hints in the film’s trailer as to what went wrong. One shot shows an imminent victim of the killer getting caught in some kind of animal trap, the other has Michael Fassbender raging and weeping in front of a wildly burning building. Neither scene makes it into the final cut. More evidence of a film that was re-edited endlessly to try and make sense of the half-baked screenplay.
Sorry, guys. It didn’t work.
Gut Reaction: Only vaguely interested as to what the hell was going on, with occasional starts at the gory stuff and one belated heart-pounding moment much too late in the day.
Ed’s Verdict: All that talent – from source material to cast and crew. And it still managed to be so damn dull…