Brandon Richardson | 20/10/2017
Amongst the slew of thriller novel adaptations that have arrived in recent years, The Snowman is a textbook example of the challenge of fitting an acclaimed and detailed story into a two hour runtime.
A young boy witnesses his mother’s drowning in an icy lake in remote Norway. Flash-forward twenty-something years and we find acclaimed detective, and drunk, Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) arising from a binge-induced slumber in Oslo. Desperate for a case to satisfy his insatiable appetite for mystery, his interest is piqued when he finds a strange connection between a missing person's case and an unsolved murder; the presence of an ominous-looking snowman. Fearing that Oslo may be facing its first serial killer, Harry assembles a team to investigate, including a rebellious new recruit Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson). As the pressure mounts, a morbid game of cat and mouse between Harry and The Snowman unfolds, with fatal consequences.
Perhaps the most startling aspect of The Snowman is its stark contrast in quality to Tomas Alfredson’s previous accomplishment of preserving the intricate and nuanced narrative of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy during adaptation. All of that attention to detail contained in the latter created an aura of tension that is absent in the former. Indeed, the most pressing impression The Snowman is likely to leave on its viewers is one of incompleteness: there is just so much missing. Comparing this film to the modestly more effective Girl on the Train, where both of the lead characters suffer from the unlikeable trait of drunkenness, we receive absolutely no background or explanation into Harry’s reasons for his anti-social character. Characters frequently make allusions to his formidable crime-solving record yet we seldom gain further insight into the character's past; sure to be off putting to those unfamiliar with the series. Instead, what we are left with is a largely unlikable, unrelatable detective whose motives are unknown.
Similarly, the film is constructed in such a haphazard way that it creates severe confusion around main plot progression. This effect is contributed to on many fronts. Poorly conceived dialogue leads us unassured of the discoveries made and the direction the investigation is now heading in. This is compounded by an erratic construction of scene transitions that fail to elucidate basic information that might indicate where the characters are or why they are even there. Scant character insight leaves us frustrated at the incredibly illogical and dangerous decisions made by Katrine that frequently jeopardise her own safety and the integrity of the case for no conceivable personal benefit. Poorly executed climactic scenes also fall victim to classic horror tropes, casting doubt on whether the killer is bound by laws of physics, and we never really discover where his obsession with the snow comes from. Ultimately, this sums to a moderately interesting story arc (which, by the way, hinges entirely on some seemingly inconsequential information which should have been uncovered with competent investigation) with an unsatisfying ending.
However, there are some redeeming factors to be found. The cast is iron clad, albeit somewhat wasted considering the above. The setting of the film is absolutely stunning, showcasing the natural wonder of Norway in a way more impressive than anything else to be found in the film. Coupled with an eclectic cinematographic approach, often reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film, the visual satisfaction of this film is certainly front and centre, likely to boost Norway’s appeal for tourists and future filmmaking alike. Yet, these are nowhere near strong enough to overcome the evidently rushed production that so dearly requires a restructure.
While visually arresting, The Snowman fails to capitalise on a promising foundation, executing its narrative with as little sense as the construction of a snowman in a warm Aussie summer.