A spectacularly awful waste of talent and time.
The Snowman‘s trailer debuted at Comic-Con earlier this year. Pre-viewing, many had already written it off. But then, it looked good. It looked really good. An adaptation of one of Jo Nesbo’s famous books about hardened detective Harry Hole seemed an inevitability, and the trailer only served to justify these desires. Remember last year when an adaptation of another crime mystery, The Girl on the Train had a fantastic trailer but ended up derailing critically? The Snowman suffers a similar fate, except it is so much worse.
Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender), an alcoholic mess, is on the hunt for a serial killer with a sickly relationship with Snowmen. Alongside him is Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), although her personal agenda makes her more mysterious to Harry.
We’re introduced to our ‘creepy’ killer’s backstory in the opening scene. Nonsensical story short – he doesn’t know who his dad is, doesn’t have a mother (anymore) and has an aptitude for boring snowmen (every snowman we see has the same dim-witted expression the cast pioneer throughout). There’s some dark undertones to the preamble, but it’s overshadowed by a frankly diabolical script – more on that later. Part of the sequence involves a car chase, which is half legitimately filmed, half poorly animated. It distracts from the intended thrill of the chase – which by the way, isn’t there anyway, and was genuinely laughable. From this point, it’s quite clear that the film is heading down a dark, shitty path.
We then meet Harry Hole, awakening from a drunken slumber, holding an empty bottle of vodka. Fassbender is naturally a scene-stealing powerhouse, but watching the one-dimensional, in-dire-need-of-a-shower grump stumble around from scene-to-scene loses its impact. If you’re a fan of watching Fassbender ponder his own mentality by staring at his reflection in windows, there’s plenty of that. He’s neither likable nor unlikable – a generic crime detective that would be better placed in a TV show to flesh him out, but god almighty, do not use the same writers.
Adapted from Jo Nesbo’s bestseller, writers Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan, Soren Sveistrup have created The Abominable Snowman. The script is absolutely deplorable, to the point it feels almost like a parody. There’s a scene between Fassbender and another detective that goes like this: “Can I keep this?”…”No.”…”Can I keep this?”…”Yeah, alright.” It’s a screenplay undeserving of the big screen, small screen, any screen really. I wouldn’t even give it the pleasure of using it to wipe my arse. What makes it such a crucial flaw for the film is that it gives the fantastic talent on offer nothing to work with. Ferguson is ultimately a femme fatale with a temper and a grudge. Charlotte Gainsbourg, who’s performances in Lars Von Trier’s brutal Antichrist and Nympomaniac were a revelation, is placed in random slots throughout the running time with diabolically inhuman decorum and hilarious dialogue – look out for the scene where she stares at Fassbender through a window for a solid 15 seconds before resuming to her other conversation – fantastic. Not that the cast necessarily do themselves any favours either – aside from a steamy dry-hump (which, by the way, is the single most convincing bit of acting in the entirety of the film) Gainsbourg is measly. J.K Simmons is under-utilised in a money-wasted casting that often feels like he’s walked into the wrong movie. But most of all, what the hell is Val Kilmer trying to pull off here, in a drunken performance which is supposed to draw pity, but when he carries himself like someone having the longest drawn-out stroke, it’s hard to take seriously.
The plot itself, in the briefest of thoughts, is actually scary. A man who mutilates women when fresh snow falls and associates their deaths with a snowman, a childhood beacon of happiness for winter? Magic, give me that now. However that dream is best compared to a beautifully built, immaculate snowman, that has been destroyed ruthlessly by an immensely stupid child. The narrative, particularly in the first third, is given to us in dribs and drabs, never spending an immersive amount of time with any character or in any location.
There is a brief period where interest levels peak, when the chase is intensifying and the cast actually seem to mildly enjoy what they’re doing. Saying that, the killer can be ‘called’ 10 minutes in. Director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) has absolutely no grip on what makes a crime-shocker of this calibre work on screen. Look at two other gruesome crime-noir-horrors, Se7en and Zodiac, both simmering, engrossing works that build believable characters with a despicable villain and grounded storytelling. The Snowman is instead, at best, a lukewarm yawn-fest that has cult-potential to be picked apart in years to come.
You’ll go in looking for an ice-cold, grisly chiller. Instead you’ll be served the equivalent of a tepid cup of Bovril – and I really hate Bovril.