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Leave The Snowman Out in the Cold

The Snowman sells itself on its titular gimmick. The imagery of a snowman connected to a serial killer thriller is a striking contrast of preconceptions. Children make snowmen, so how can something so juvenile be played as deadly? Well, it’s been done before, and even if not, The Snowman proves its title creation has very little bearing on what the movie’s actually about.
Based on the novel by Jo Nesbø, the story concerns a series of murders in an around Oslo, Norway and the alcoholic detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) attempting to solve it. He’s joined in this capacity by Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) as they discover a series of dead women who’ve had their heads removed, and at each crime scene the killer has left a crude snowman as their calling card. Their investigation takes them from unsolved cold cases to political officials campaigning to host the Winter Games.
This movie was directed by Thomas Alfredson, whose last film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy I liked quite a bit. Of course that film benefited from an intriguing source story by John Le Carre and a great cast performing as best they could. However, nobody in The Snowman seems to be giving their A game. This is Alfredson’s return to film after six years and he doesn’t seem to be putting effort in. Michael Fassbender, who’s usually pretty great, is very wooden in his performance here. Despite how troubled his backstory is, he never feels like he’s genuinely invested in the case -which might be the intention, but it’s lousy characterization then. Ferguson and Charlotte Gainsbourg as Hole’s former girlfriend give okay performances for what little character they’re working with. But the supporting cast are fairly unimpressive from Chloë Sevigny to David Dencik to James D’Arcy. Even Toby Jones doesn’t deliver as he usually does. However J.K. Simmons isn’t bad, though severely underused, and I don’t know what Val Kilmer is doing, but it’s weird and it’s welcome. I only wish he was in this movie a little more, because his screen-time is minimal.
Kilmer’s character however doesn’t factor a lot into the plot, which is most distracting because he’s set in another time period and supposedly has an impact on the current case. There are a few distracting plot-lines like this that don’t add much to the mystery or impact the crux of the story in any meaningful way. And most of these threads are left completely unresolved by the end of the movie; storylines and characters that are just never addressed and ultimately are completely pointless. You can really tell too that Harry Hole is a character from a book series, as he’s not written very strongly but for the indications that he has a past not revealed here, and he’s covered a lot of cases like this. He also undergoes no character development, a common trait of mystery series sleuths.
The snowman motif as I mentioned is mostly incidental. It’s there for its notable imagery more than anything else. It actually makes a few appearances that make no sense, none that are connected to murders that we see. The killer is just a serial killer stereotype rip-off, being just enough ahead of the cops to avoid them for a while while sending cryptic notes like the Zodiac. His backstory is really strange and his motives even with an explanation included, are a little unclear. He’s got a frightening weapon, but there’s nothing else intimidating about him. And the climactic confrontation between him and Hole ends in the most disappointing way possible, only for the movie itself to awkwardly and abruptly end shortly after. But that’s not a huge problem considering the story leading up to it never has your investment. The number of clunky scenes and sudden conveniences make it impossible to. It’s one of the most generic mystery movies I’ve ever seen, and a little bit of gore, some nonsensical detours, and a couple twists not hard to predict won’t change that. Also, for some reason everybody in the movie has the same ringtone and it doesn’t take long before it becomes unbearably annoying.
Compared to another murder mystery movie set in the dead of winter, Wind River, The Snowman lacks engaging characters or an original factor such as that films’ strong subtext on the socio-economic nature of Native American reservations and the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women. The Snowman’s just dull and insensible. Even stripping it of the incongruous to incomprehensible plot points wouldn’t help what at its’ core is a fundamentally weak story.

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