Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Remember the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In? I do, nearly 10 years after seeing it at an international film festival. It was gripping, unique, and the characters were quite striking. Director Tomas Alfredson’s newest film, The Snowman, is equally memorable but for the opposite reasons.
For burnt-out, alcoholic detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender), the death of a young woman during the first flurry of Scandinavian winter feels like anything but a routine homicide – her noggin was severed and a suspicious snowman is part of the crime scene. Hole’s investigation provokes the murderous sociopath, who taunts the police with notes and engages them in bizarre games. As the brutal beheadings continue, Harry teams up with starry-eyed new recruit Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) to lure the madman out of the shadows before he can strike again.
That’s just one of the incomprehensible story lines. There are three backstories presented as mysteries, then slowly revealed as somewhat relevant to the current cache of usual suspects. In one, a young boy watches his mother commit suicide by allowing herself to sink beneath the ice of a frigid lake. In another, Val Kilmer – apparently channeling former costar Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau – turns in a truly bizarre performance as yet another alcoholic, burnout detective who quite literally loses his mind. Lastly, Hole struggles with the loss of his longtime relationship with Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and tries to stay in her son, Oleg’s (Michael Yates), life. I won’t even go into the various red herrings thrown in willy-nilly, except to say that J.K. Simmons’ portrayal as a Weinstein-esque mogul isn’t terrible.
There’s an avalanche of stupidity throughout the film. At one point an investigator says: “Every time he kills… it’s snowing!” Wow. Really, Sherlock? Since the serial killer lives and slays in Norway, that’s kind of a given. Then there’s another scene in which Hole and Bratt are trying to track down a missing woman. They race to her house, bungle through it, then find someone in a shed out back, decapitating chickens with a huge ax. They tell the blood-spattered stranger that they’re looking for Sylvia Ottersen (Chloë Sevigny), who’s been reported missing. “That’s me,” she says. The cops shrug and say, “Oh, okay. Sorry to have bothered you,” and leave without asking for a shred of I.D.
Another thread that runs through the, er, story is paternity and sterility. When a character says that he is infertile, he helpfully clarifies that this means he cannot have children. Maybe that’s why the lead character’s name is Harry Hole – to remind us where babies come from.
Based on one of bestselling author Jo Nesbø’s series of crime novels, The Snowman is about as literary as chicken-scratch on a chalkboard. The three credited screenwriters (Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini, Søren Sveistrup) don’t seem to have a comprehensible thought among them. Martin Scorsese, originally tapped to direct, now has only an executive producer credit. Marty probably knew he was going to lose money on this flaky bet, even after bringing in the brilliant and legendary editor Thelma Schoonmaker to make less of a mess of this defrosted disaster.
When it comes to the gruesomeness of the crimes themselves, they are indeed grotesque and twisted – severed heads atop snowmen, snowman heads atop neck stumps, and so on – but there’s no horror or suspense to the proceedings at all. In fact, each successive appearance of the silly snowman is just plain funny – eventually he’s reduced to an outline in the slush on the hood of a car. Even Jack Frost (1998) was scarier than this.