Where is Michael Keaton’s snowman when you need him?
It is the beginning of winter in Oslo, Norway, and it is here where me meet our main character, detective Harry Hole, played by Michael Fassbender. He returns to his detective job after battling alcoholism, and receives a mysterious note from a killer, signed only with a picture of a half-built snowman. In the meantime, he is given an assignment to find a woman who mysteriously disappeared one night, and is partnered up with a rookie named Katrine Ratt, played by Rebecca Ferguson. They both believe that this woman’s disappearance is linked to a decades old case involving a killer who decapitates his victims and replaces their heads with that of a snowman. Will they be able to track down this quirky killer before he kills again? Do snowmen enjoy hot chocolate?
I knew I was in trouble from the very start of the film, where we see an abusive father returning home to his wife and kid. After a series of confusing events, there is a car chase that ends with the mother crashing and drowning in a lake. This whole sequence is so poorly edited and paced, that I was distracted from the dialogue and didn’t catch a muffled line. I asked someone in the audience what the character said, and he couldn’t hear either. I am personally starting to get tired of films being so complicated and rushed that if you look away for just one second, you become lost. Complex plots and layered characters in film are more than welcome, but bad pacing (and poor audio) makes the film frustrating and unenjoyable.
Something interesting, however, did happen during this sequence. At one point, the camera lingers on a shot of a snowman facing the house, and the audience I was part of started to snicker. The appearance of snowmen occurs so often throughout the film, that it might make for a good drinking game for those who love bad movies. I actually thought that snowmen would have much more significance to the story, but no. The director just has a weird habit of lingering over these shots of snowmen for no real reason, as if he was trying to hint that the snowmen were the ones responsible for the murders. Sure, and Rudolph was responsible for the Equifax leaks.
Anyway, back to the plot of the film. It sucks. The motives behind the killer are not made clear, even when the detectives are verbalizing their theories. The filmmakers try to connect the killings to neglected children and their deadbeat parents, Harry being an example, but not only is this theme not examined thoroughly enough, it is just absurd. This film is based on a best-selling novel, one I myself haven’t read, but I assume this story worked better on the page.
Michael Fassbender is an actor that I highly admire for his versatility, from playing an android in Prometheus to portraying Steve Jobs in the Aaron Sorkin-penned biopic. I can see why he would be attracted to a role like Harry Hole, as there are many dimensions to explore in playing an alcoholic detective. This did wonders for Liam Neeson in A Walk Among the Tombstones. Fassbender, however, feels wasted in this role, and I’m not talking about the alcohol on his breath. This whole cast feels wasted here, including Charlotte Gainsbourg, Chloë Sevigny, James D’Arcy, J.K. Simmons, and even Val Kilmer, of whom feels like we haven’t seen on the big screen in such a long time. How can a film feature this many talented actors and give them almost nothing to work with, especially when it is directed by the man behind Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? Well, I assume that six years after directing a film, a director might forget a few things about subtle filmmaking.
For example, there is a scene where Fassbender is trying to ask questions to the missing woman’s daughter. When he enters the room, she is wearing a donkey mask. If that is not already terrifyingly weird enough, Fassbender plays with this situation, making donkey sounds to try to cheer up the daughter. This girl has another odd moment later on in the film where she makes a face while looking through the window of a car. Somehow, the director thought it was best to keep the camera lingering on that face for a while until someone says a line, but just because a shot can be held, doesn’t mean it should. And the less said about the scene with the embarrassingly fake CGI head being blown off of a victim, the better.
There is also a moment where Ferguson’s character is having a nervous breakdown, and Fassbender pins her to the ground. The way they are positioned looks a little too sensual for this scene’s tone, and the fact that the camera is not showing the bottom half of their bodies makes this shot even more unsettling. They are not set up to be love interests at all in this film, so why do we even have a shot like this here?
My favorite moment, however, is a wide shot where someone is standing out in the open calling out for the killer, only to be shot from a distance. I should have felt shocked at a moment like this, but all I kept thinking of was how much it reminded me of the “How Not to be Seen” sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I’m not one for talking during viewing a movie, but when this happened, I turned to my friend and whispered, “This demonstrates the value of not being seen.” Perhaps this can be applied to the film itself.
Possibly the biggest blunder of this film, which has too many blunders to count, is that Martin Scorsese is an executive producer. How can Scorsese have his name attached to a film so shoddily put together? My only guess is that he believed that this film would be in the same vein as his own Shutter Island. But while Shutter Island kept its mystery and story intact, this film feels like it is missing some crucial scenes. There is a story going around saying that The Snowman had a troubled production and that some parts weren’t filmed. It honestly wouldn’t shock me if that were true.
So, is there anything good in this film? Well, despite most of the film’s terrible aspects, the camerawork is nice, and the director of photography was able to create some feeling of mystery through the way the scenes are framed. This nice photography is ruined, however, by the color correction, which consists of a magenta filter over each scene. I wasn’t sure whether this was the film itself, or if it was a fault in the theater’s projector. Either way, this is the best compliment I can give this sorry excuse for a mystery thriller.
The Snowman is one of the most bizarrely awful movies I have seen this year. I don’t believe I have seen a movie this baffling since The Bye Bye Man, but it doesn’t have enough energy to be enjoyably bad. I am not entirely sure who would enjoy this movie, as the mystery element isn’t all that interesting, and the actors look so uninvested. I would say just let it melt at the box office.