Movie Review: There’s snow way you’ll enjoy ‘THE SNOWMAN’


Courtney Howard // Film Critic


Rated R, 119 min.
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Michael FassbenderRebecca FergusonCharlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson, Michael Yates, J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer, David Dencik and Chloë Sevigny

Author Jo Nesbø’s beloved character Harry Hole is a brilliant, driven detective, who’s viewed as somewhat of a loose cannon by his co-workers on the force. You’d never be able to tell this from director Tomas Alfredson’s cinematic adaptation of him in THE SNOWMAN. Instead we’re given a complicated, confusing one-dimensional version – and not for lack of trying by multi-faceted Michael Fassbender in the role. Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini and Søren Sveistrup’s screenplay does the lion’s share of mucking up the proceedings. The ensuing mystery becomes less about the one in the story, and more about how all this talent could be so squandered.

Hole (Fassbender) is a drunk, riddled with self-abnegation and loneliness, passing out on park benches and sidewalks. He’s struck out at being a good boyfriend to ex Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who’s in a new relationship with doctor Mattias (Jonas Karlsson), and a dependable father figure to her teen son Oleg (Michael Yates). His apartment is as perforated with dry rot and mold, mirroring his weary soul. It’s a METAPHOR. The only thing he hasn’t failed at is his job – and he’s in dire need of a case again. No sooner does Harry wish for this does a clue show up in his mail – a cryptic letter written by someone calling themselves “The Snowman.” Women begin to go missing under mysterious circumstances. He’s assigned a new recruit, Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), and she’s eager to piece the puzzle together.

Rebecca Ferguson and Michael Fassbender in THE SNOWMAN. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

This “whodunit” is thrown into complete disarray once Detective Rafto (Val Kilmer) shows up, leading to audience befuddlement. Though it sort of calcifies later, there’s no indication, through cinematography or other aesthetic manipulations, that this is a flashback. Red herrings are ham-handed at best. The thread involving a perverted political fat cat (J.K. Simmons) and his skeevy, slippery doctor pal (David Dencik) is a big ho-hum, taking up a large portion of the run time. To use the term convoluted feels like an understatement. And the script has no problem leaving it unresolved as well. Women have no agency. The plot hinges on punishing females when they do attempt to own their choices. We’re there primarily to service the needs of the male characters and their arcs, literally and figuratively shoved into refrigerators. Big leaps are required to make sense of Katrine’s third act motive to use herself as bait.

Perhaps the worst thing about this is we’re five steps ahead of the mystery at all times – a crime in films of its ilk. There’s no surprise at the reveal. No revelations to be had. Sure, Alfredson cultivates a stark, cold atmospheric tone and layers in motifs with his allusions to prey (like the bunny rabbit ears on one victim’s cell phone and the chicken being beheaded). The clicking and slinking of the wire on the killer’s instrument is amped up by the sound design team to add unsettling terror, but is more expected than effective. One of the killer’s earliest victims is discovered with her body parts placed like Saul Bass’ ANATOMY OF A MURDER art. But all that isn’t enough to buoy the scattered, messy story.

Grade: D

THE SNOWMAN opens on October 20.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, 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.