Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Please, indulge me for a brief moment.
I am sick of seeing women constantly put in peril for the sake of narrative drive. I am sick of seeing females written as the hapless victims, struck down by the hands of a madman. I am sick of seeing this regressive trope-filled story rehashed again and again on screen. This is only made worse when there’s little to no profundity infused about the psychological state of either the people on pursuit of the killer, or the killer themselves. When females are exclusively included to aid male arcs, it feels cheap and exploitative, though I’m guessing the salacious aspect to it all is part and parcel to the genre’s popularity.
A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES turned my stomach. SPLIT has – months later – still left me frustrated and angry. And now I’m hoping – no, praying – this will not be the case for director Tomas Alfredson’s THE SNOWMAN, however, the signs from the new trailer, well, take a look and you’ll understand my trepidation.
Adapted by the best-selling novel by Jo Nesbø, the film follows Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender, whose character’s name I can never say with a straight face and always add the crass “get in my”) as he investigates the multiple gruesome murders of women, all of whom disappeared the day of the first snow. It’s clear he’s dealing with a serial killer calling himself “The Snowman Killer,” and the only way to lure this sicko out is to use his “brilliant new” female partner (Rebecca Ferguson) as bait.
As per the most basic reads of the narrative spun above, you can see how I’m understandably cautious. It all feels tangentially related to the “fridging” of female characters – something we see in comics that could possibly be applied here. Author Gail Simone coined the term “women in refrigerators,” referring to female characters in comic books who are “either de-powered, raped, or cut up and stuck in the refrigerator,” in order to send the male protagonist on his hero’s journey. It’s used as a plot device. Now, it’s possible this is an extremely superficial correlation based on the trailer alone, but it’s possible you might see this too. It’s an honest, fair question to ask and discuss.
Given the ensemble of talent behind this, I remain hopeful my fears will be unfounded – that this question won’t cross my mind when I see the final cinematic product. Alfredson’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is a brilliant, contemplative and intense study on horror. Nesbø wrote the novel on which HEADHUNTERS was adapted. Working Title productions have a long history of producing fantastic films. Screenwriters Hossein Amini (DRIVE) and Peter Straughan (FRANK, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY) have a fairly strong background behind them. And “My Fassy” (with exception of ASSASSIN’S CREED) and intelligent bad-ass Ferguson typically never let me down.
Sure, we’ve seen the gender-swapped version of serial killing – to varying degrees of successful effect – in films like AUDITION, SPECIES and MONSTER. There have also been remarkable films like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and KISS THE GIRLS that have done it right – films where it’s shown the drive to catch the killers is equal to the killer’s obsession. I certainly hope this will be the case for THE SNOWMAN.
Listen, the book (which I have yet to read), was a huge success for good reason. A cursory search on the Amazon book reviews tells me it’s a “page-turner” that “fully fleshes out the characters, especially Hole, with sharp-instincts and real heart.” It also spawned an entire Harry Hole series. I’m positive there would be more uproar about this if my complex feelings would’ve materialized.
When all is said and done, my question above is assuredly far too early to speculate on since this sort of question should be asked of the final finished film – not necessarily a trailer. There could be unexpected twists ahead if the screenwriters go off book. But it certainly is something to provoke thought – something only great movies can do.
Maybe I should just call this one IT’S COMPLICATED.
THE SNOWMAN opens on October 20.