Review: The Snowman (2017)

This Jo Nesbø adaptation has potential but sadly fails to chill or thrill.

Ever looked at something and thought where did it all go wrong? Sometimes a movie has everything going for it, a great concept, a great cast, a great crew and some stunning ideas and then it just flat out does not work. Remember Hancock and how it derailed? Or Neveldine/Taylor’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance? Well, I’m sad to report that director Tomas Alfredson’s (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Let The Right One In) adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s novel The Snowman is a real disappointment to fans of the book and newcomers alike.

From the bleak first scene to the impressive who’s who opening credits backed by Marco Beltrami’s unnerving scoring (which practically melts away into unremarkable territory after this point), this is a film that looks like it could have that lingering Scandinavian Drama/Thriller inspired chill and a real horrific thrill. A film with the disturbing content akin to the likes of The Millennium Trilogy, and the engulfing setting serving it as well as the similarly cinematic locations served Insomnia and The Frozen Ground. Unfortunately, it soon all to clear that all these influences are out of reach, as the longer Alfredson’s film goes on the more uninvolved you are, as you’re too busy thinking how much better it should be and how indecipherably structured it all is.

The plot synopsis above sounds eerie and seems to set up a really cold and skin prickling detective yarn but the film is fragmented by flashbacks and sub-plots that ultimately make little to no sense and go nowhere. Sex scandals, broken families, domestic abuse, murder, corruption and more, all are stuffed into a film that becomes less like a web of intrigue and more like multiple films cut and pasted together. The editing suite seems to have lopped off bits here and there leaving a mystery that just doesn’t really add up. Then, to make matters worse, by the second-rate finale you feel dispirited that you stuck with the film to the end because there is no payoff and the reveal is pretty illogical.

Apparently Alfredson had difficulty behind the scenes with scheduling and filming and it certainly shows in a film that has all the pieces but they just are not in place. There is so much potential on show that there cannot help but be moments of effectiveness (the beautifully shot Rear Window esque house window scenes make us feel like sadistic voyeurs, the premise and early developments do initially draw you in, as does the killer’s potential ideology) but these qualities taunt you from beneath the impenetrable ice that is the overall narrative.

The biggest let down is how wasted the cast are because what an impressive cast this is. It is as though each signed up based on an attractive script pitch (Nesbø adapted, Martin Scorsese backed (according to the credits), from an acclaimed director), only for some to realise upon shooting that things were not going to plan. Michael Fassbender has a theoretically great character in alcoholic detective Harry Hole but the film struggles to tap into who he really is and Fassbender, while ok, does not seem fully invested. In fact, aside from a few famous faces, the only fully committed performance seems to be Rebecca Ferguson as Hole’s colleague Katrine Bratt. The rest of the cast are stuck in supporting parts that either do not make an impact or are forgotten about rather quickly.

I was so looking forward to this but it unfortunately has not come together, that being said unanimous praise must but placed upon Dion Beebe, whose cinematography is the star of the film. The Snowman is a wonky picture but the Norwegian snowscapes and visually engrossing backdrops carry the entire film, as they are stunning and the perfect settings for such a movie, capturing the beauty and yet shivering harshness of this setting.

Overall The Snowman is not meritless, how can it be with such talent involved on and off screen? However what it is, is a visually engrossing film that has fleeting moments but cannot work out what story it is telling us and how to use all the resources it has at its disposal. As a result it is destined to be likened to a forgettable TV Drama that has somehow gathered a calibre cast and made it to cinemas and that is a real tragedy.

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