'The Snowman' review

When a movie goes through a troubled and rocky production, that's usually news that comes to light well before its release. It could be indicated by release date delays, clashes between the director and studio, or massive re-shoots, but there's almost always a hint that we're about to see a disaster. Think Suicide Squad or Fantastic Four or even Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword- we knew something was rotten in Denmark before the films even screened for critics. For these reasons, I have to say that The Snowman is truly a bizarre fiasco. Everything seemed fine. The film was dated for its current release well over a year ago, and nothing came out that gave anyone much reason to worry. The trailer was solidly mediocre, previewing a chilly B-level mystery movie that looked like it could be fun in a gruesome kind of way. Director Tomas Alfredson has a great reputation from Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and the cast led by Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, and J.K. Simmons was enticing. I wasn't over the moon with anticipation, but this seemed like a solid fall offering.

And then, almost as a preemptive strike against reviews that he knew would be terrible, Alfredson revealed to the press that they didn't shoot 10-15% of the movie. Noting how the shoot was far too short amidst a rushed production, Alfredson's strange admittance of guilt doomed this film before it even arrived in domestic theaters. American critics who saw the film last Wednesday were beyond baffled, with some even jokingly claiming that the filmmakers hadn't really made a movie at all. At one point I had some genuine excitement for The Snowman, but when I sat down to see the film, I was expecting a nightmare of epic proportions. Ultimately, while there are some scenes that feel poorly edited and cobbled together, the complete tedium of this film is by far the most shocking part. I seriously cannot remember the last time I was so bored during a movie. I had to fend off sleep at every moment, a side effect of one of the most profoundly stupid crime films I've ever seen. Nonsensical, self-serious, completely preposterous- choose a negative adjective and this thing fits the bill. If all of the buzz has led you to expect a fun bad movie, don't believe the hype. This movie is only effective as an insomnia pill.

The Snowman is about........something. I don't know, summing up its plot feels really futile. Michael Fassbender plays Harry Hole, a detective in Oslo who suffers from an acute case of alcoholism. He's a genius at investigative work, but he's also just a terrible person. There's a whole subplot with his ex-girlfriend (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and adopted son (Michael Yates) that comes into play later in the movie, but I'm struggling to even coherently explain that family dynamic. Anyways, Harry takes up a case with Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), a fresh-faced cop movie cliche who wants to solve the riddle of the Snowman killer. Women are being murdered and there seems to be a pattern to the whole thing. There's a shady businessman named Arve Stop (J.K. Simmons), and it also appears that a second alcoholic cop (Val Kilmer) chased down this killer to no avail nearly a decade ago. Can the mysterious Harry Hole finally crack the cold case?

It's only when I attempted to summarize the plot of The Snowman that I truly realized the staggering incoherence and massive idiocy of this misfire. Maybe I wouldn't have noticed if Alfredson hadn't pointed it out, but it feels like large chunks of The Snowman are completely missing, in addition to moments where it feels like the editors jump back and forth between scenes that aren't really meant to go together. This is a movie that simply doesn't make sense much of the time, and it's made worse by the fact that it is about virtually nothing. The Snowman is a void, a black hole where traditional narrative elements go to die. Character development? Forget about it, beyond one supposedly intense scene towards the end that made me force myself not to laugh. A true motivation for the killer? Ha, lower your expectations way down. A tidy conclusion to all story threads? Whoops, forgot to do that. There's just nothing here.

I will say that Alfredson captures some very pretty images of Norway, but nothing that I couldn't find with a couple of Google searches. His direction is completely uninspired, and while he can blame it all on editing and production woes, I don't think he ever had any significant grasp of the material. I haven't seen either of Alfredson's previous critically acclaimed films, so a comparison is out of the question. However, it's almost shocking how little thematic resonance the screenplay (written by Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini, and Soren Sveistrup) has, and how Alfredson fails to build on that in any significant way. Basically, you have a movie about a drunken cop who inadvertently stumbles upon a series of crimes and accidentally solves the case. That the movie doesn't make sense only compounds the issues further.

The fact that The Snowman snagged such a prestigious cast is downright stunning. How did they read this and feel that there was anything of worth here? Maybe the screenplay was lost in Alfredson's translation, but what's on the screen is so rote and cliched that it's almost comical. Michael Fassbender, one of my favorite actors working today, is left to sulk and frown his way through 119 minutes of sheer tedium, only occasionally hinting at the character that might have been. Rebecca Ferguson was undeniably impressive in Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation, but after this, Life, and The Girl on the Train, she needs to start picking better projects. J.K. Simmons is a walking red herring, and strong character actors like James D'Arcy and Charlotte Gainsbourg are wasted on a film that simply doesn't care about their talents.

For all of its incoherence and editing issues, The Snowman ultimately falls apart because of how lifeless it is. I truly hate using the word "boring" as a way of expressing my dislike for a movie, but sometimes it's the only choice. The Snowman never has a pulse. It never achieves any kind of suspense or excitement, running through the motions without the slightest hint of narrative momentum or dramatic energy. This is a film where shocking, grisly violence occurs on a regular basis, and it never manages to surprise or disgust the audience in the slightest. From the frantically choppy opening scene to the ill-advised climax, The Snowman is a numbing, sleep-inducing experience.

When the year began, who would have ever thought that a detective thriller with Michael Fassbender would be mentioned in the same breath as Baywatch and The Emoji Movie? And yet here we are, talking about one of the worst films of the year by a mile. The Snowman has virtually no redeeming qualities, so muddled and bizarre in its execution that it's hard to even see what the appeal was in the first place. For everyone involved, it's best to pretend that this just didn't happen. And since the film is already bombing at the box office, it looks like audiences will be doing the same.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D-                                            (2.9/10)

Images: Universal