Warning! Spoilers ahead!
“Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!”
Hello all. If you’re reading this in Chicago, you might have noticed we’ve gotten a lot of snow recently. And where there’s snow, there are snowmen. Now, according to the groundhog, we have six more weeks of winter to look forward to. Well isn’t that something? It seems like now would be the perfect opportunity to look at a movie that is covered in snow! Today, we are talking about The Snowman. I recently talked about one of my biggest guilty pleasure movies, Serenity. I don’t think The Snowman is on the same level of Serenity. See, with Serenity I could say it’s not that good but I still enjoy it. The Snowman is a different beast entirely. Let me make this clear this right now: The Snowman is a terrible film…but oh my god is it fascinating. So, with all that white stuff outside, now’s as good a time as ever to talk about one of the oddest films to come out of 2017.
The Snowman is a mystery. Yes, it’s a detective murder mystery but it’s also a mystery of what went so horribly wrong here. Michael Fassbender. Rebecca Ferguson. J.K. Simmons. Thomas Alfredson. Executive producer Martin Scorsese! All of these talented people were involved in the making of The Snowman. It’s even based on a hugely successful Norwegian book series by Jo Nesbo (one of Nesbo’s books was also adapted into the far better thriller Headhunters). Lastly, I love a good mystery. Currently I would say David Fincher is the modern day master of the dark mystery genre (what with Se7en, Zodiac, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl.) I ate all of those movies up. I should love The Snowman. I did not. In fact, I’m not alone. The film was widely panned by critics and was a box office bomb when released in October 2017. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 7%. What is so bad about this movie that 93% of critics who saw it gave it a negative review? Well, let’s get into that…
First off, The Snowman has one of the greatest trailers for a bad movie that’s come out in the last decade. Whoever edited that trailer needs a raise. They made this film look awesome (especially with that music choice). But it’s a cold reality check when you see the actual film. If you’re wondering about what the plot could be about, I can sum it up pretty quickly. The Snowman is about a legendary detective in Oslo trying to solve some recent murders. Women have gone missing and, outside every one of their homes, the culprit leaves a crudely made snowman. Soon the detective joins another junior detective to try and hunt down the Snowman Killer.
Ok let’s just get this out of the way right now: The detective’s name is Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender). Yes, you read that right. No, it’s not a typo. See, in the books his name is pronounced as two syllables (Hoh-leh). I have no idea why they decided to pronounce his name fanatically in this American version. Are they trying to get a head start on the porn parody? Anyways, Harry is an alcoholic (or at least that’s what we’re told). We see him wake up in a children’s park passed out on a bench. Ten minutes later, we see him passed out outside a bar. After these two first act moments, his addiction is barely ever brought up again. That’s really the only thing we know about Harry and that’s a problem with all the characters in this movie. We barely get to know or even care about them.
There are other characters. Rebecca Ferguson is Katrine Bratt, the junior detective working with Harry. There’s Val Kilmer in some flashback sequences playing a detective named Gert Rafto. There’s Charlotte Gainsbourg as Rakel, Harry’s ex-girlfriend who he is still close with (her and her son, Oleg). Jonas Karlsson is Mathias, the plastic surgeon Rakel is now dating. J.K. Simmons plays Arve Stop, a successful businessperson who is trying to get Oslo to host the Winter World Cup. David Dencik is Idar Vetlesen, Stop’s go-to man for their own prostitution ring. And then there’s…you know what? Never mind…
There are a lot of characters (some would say too many characters.) There’s the guy working on the mold in Harry’s apartment. There’s the prostitute that Vetlesen shows to Stop. There’s Chloe Sevigny and Toby Jones and, believe me when I say this to you, most of these characters DON’T MATTER. Look, I like to rewatch mysteries to see if they still work now that you know all the answers. Sometimes it makes you like a movie even more (Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is a great example of this.) Sometimes it really shows how poor the narrative is. The Snowman is not a good mystery. It’s a two-hour film and most of that is dedicated to unnecessary subplots and red herrings. Why J.K. Simmons’ character is even in this movie is a better mystery than the actual mystery in The Snowman.
Now I don’t know if I thought this the first time around but, upon rewatch, it is pretty clear who the Snowman Killer is. Harry is supposed to be an amazing detective yet he doesn’t make connections that the film’s audience will effortlessly make. Harry, do you not find it even a little odd that the stranger working on the mold in your house is playing the same song you just heard at one of your crime scenes? And just to make sure the audience knows that that’s the killer, we have the actual worker he’s impersonating standing outside of Harry’s apartment for no reason. It’s as if he is there simply to go, “That’s not me guys!”
This is a film that is deadly serious in tone yet has several moments of unintentional humor. The film features one of the most anti-climatic climaxes I’ve seen in a major studio film. Harry meets the killer (it’s plastic surgeon Mathias) on a wide-open frozen lake and screams at him come out. Suddenly a bullet comes out of nowhere and hits Harry. Harry is down and Mathias is walking towards him with his gun. Yet, for someone who lives in Norway, Mathias does not see the GLARINGLY OBVIOUS break in the ice between him and Harry. Mathias falls in and we see him disappear into the freezing cold. What exactly was Harry’s plan? What was he going to do? Did he intend to talk Mathias to death? It’s rare to see a movie where the film’s hero defeats the villain through sheer dumb luck. Mr. Nesbo, I am so sorry for what they did to your beloved character. Harry Hole may have a franchise in book form but here he is the lamest detective in all of Norway.
Oh there are many more examples. Why is Katrine trying to secretly film a suspect with the least inconspicuous camera you’ve ever seen? Why does Arve Stop take pictures of women right in front of their face with the flash on? Why does he send his lackey to invite women to his room when he’s just going to stand a few feet away gawking at them? Why is the editing in the climax so cut up even though the film’s credited editors have won Oscars? Are the snowmen supposed to be scary? I’m asking because they kind of look adorable. However, when I think of the biggest unintentional laugh in the film, I immediately think of the concert scene. Harry is usually missing events with Oleg so he decides to make it up to him and take him to a concert. When Oleg asks what the concert is for, Harry responds that he doesn’t know and someone at work got him the tickets. It then immediately cuts to a man whining (well more like screaming) into a microphone while some electro-jazz abomination plays. Guys, this has to be intentional. There’s no way they don’t expect people to laugh at this, right? This has to be the one joke in the film, no? If you don’t believe me, type into Youtube, “The Snowman concert scene” and behold.
Ok so, now that we’re several paragraphs deep, I should probably explain the behind-the-scenes aspect of this movie. This is where, as they say, the plot thickens. The film is directed by Thomas Alfredson. Alfredson directed two highly acclaimed films before The Snowman: the original Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. Yet Alfredson himself has said the film’s production shoot was too short. Because of that, 10% to 15% of the film’s script had not been filmed.
From Screen Rant.com:
“Our shoot time in Norway was way too short, we didn’t get the whole story with us and when we started cutting we discovered that a lot was missing. It’s like when you’re making a big jigsaw puzzle and a few pieces are missing so you don’t see the whole picture.”
So, if you make it to the end of this film and are confused, know that you are not alone. I find it ironic that, at one point in the film, Harry says, “You can’t force the pieces to fit.” He could be talking about his own movie. When you’re trying to solve a mystery, I would imagine it’s important to have all the details. But hey, maybe the heads at Universal thought differently. What do I know? I’m only the audience.
The problems didn’t stop there. One of the sadder aspects of this film’s production are the appearances by Val Kilmer. Kilmer’s character, Gert Rafto, is shown in flashbacks investigating a similar murder. He is later revealed to be Katrine’s late father. If you’re excited to see Kilmer in this film, I have some bad news. Kilmer’s body is in the movie but his voice is not. Why is that? During an AMA on Reddit, Kilmer said he had “a healing of cancer” and that his tongue was swollen because of it. So, as it was difficult to say the lines, they decided to dub all of his dialogue in the film. It’s nice that the production crew let Kilmer keep the job as I imagine he wasn’t getting many roles during this time. Here’s the problem: it is extremely obvious that this is a dub. Whoever dubbed Kilmer’s dialogue sounds nothing like him. It feels like you’re watching an old Italian horror movie where the dialogue doesn’t sync up with the actor’s mouth movements. Also Kilmer’s scenes are so short and strangely edited, it’s like they only had him for a few days. It’s a bizarre and melancholy experience. (Last year, Kilmer released a book titled I’m YourHuckelberry. In it, he thankfully wrote: “I have been healed of cancer for over four years now, and there has never been any recurrence…)
All of this combines to make a special cocktail of awful. The Snowman is fascinatingly bad. As I said earlier, there are so many characters and red herrings that go absolutely nowhere. Winter World Cup? Nowhere. Prostitution ring? Nowhere. Chloe Sevigny showing up as a pair of twin sisters? Nowhere. It seems like they needed to add padding to a movie that wasn’t long enough (that’s not the case. This movie is two hours long.) Re-watching it again was an exercise in time wasting. When you know the whole time Mathias is the killer, you aren’t all that invested when they dedicate the entire second act to proving Stop and Vetlesen are. It’s a terrible film. But it is that perfect storm of terrible. Unless you’re interested in watching really bad movies, I would never recommend it. Yet I felt like I had to talk about it. I feel like I don’t hate this movie the way I should. It’s the kind of movie that includes so many moments that will give you a “wait what”-type reaction that I am not mad I saw it. It is kind of mesmerizing how wrong this thing goes. Because of that, I would easily put The Snowman on before I ever rewatch films such as A Good Day to Die Hard or Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake. Now that would be a crime.