I had high hopes for the movie adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman when the trailer debuted several months ago. The fast-paced trailer promised a cat-and-mouse serial-killer thriller, offering a glimmer of hope for Michael Fassbender’s increasing reputation as box office poison outside of the X-Men franchise. However, the end product of the Tomas Alfredson directed thriller is, quite frankly, abominable.
The Snowman should’ve worked. Nesbø’s book is a bestseller, Scandi-Noir murder mysteries are all the rage, Alfredson has had us on the edge of our seats before with works such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Let the Right One In, and the cast is impressive with Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones, Chloe Sevigny, and James D’Arcy.
So what went wrong? Well, just about everything.
Firstly, let’s look at the trailer:
The dialogue featured in the trailer of Fassbender mentioning a woman was found dead without her head before declaring that the culprit has dubbed himself ‘The Snowman Killer’ is absent from the movie. The distorted voice of the deranged murderer taunting Fassbender’s Harry Hole saying “You could have saved them. I gave you all the clues” is also missing despite adorning every advertising poster for the film.
Perhaps, this is because the trailer sets up a different narrative. A plot that entirely contrasts the one we see. We don’t see Chloe Sevigny’s character getting her leg caught in a bear trap, nor do we see Fassbender chase the killer through the snowy surroundings. The climatic end of the trailer with Fassbender breaking into a burning building that explodes is nowhere to be seen either. There isn’t even any build up in the final product that suggests that it was ever filmed. The only evidence we have is that shot in the trailer, making me wonder what happened between marketing and the final edit to result in the mess we get on screen?
The trailer and poster suggest sinister teasing between Harry Hole and the Snowman Killer, with him leaving taunting notes for the troubled detective. Yet, bizarrely, we don’t have any of that in the movie.
It’s not simply a matter of cutting out useless scenes that divert from the plot. It seems a large portion of the movie is missing which doesn’t make for easy viewing. All the core story-telling has supposedly been wiped out. In fact, what we end up with feels like two entirely different plots mashed together.
Sub-plots are picked up and dropped without any explanation leaving the viewer to ponder in confusion as the film rushes you on to the next puzzling piece of action.
The performances the cast give are strong, but are wasted in the choppy editing and stumbling flow of the movie. Toby Jones and Chloe Sevigny have mere seconds of screen time and their characters seem utterly pointless in the grand scheme of things. J.K. Simmons, sporting a British accent as Arve Støp, is criminally underused. His dalliances with David Dencik’s character, Dr. Idar Vetleson, go largely unexplained. Why did Idar bring Arve a lady just to have her strip and him take a quick photo? Why was Arve photographing women? Why did Idar then bring said lady back to his house and effectively imprison her? All questions that The Snowman raises, but can’t quite be bothered to answer.
The only person who lets the side down is Val Kilmer. The Batman Forever and Heat star has been notably MIA from all aspects of promotion, and his first few lines of dialogue in the movie are with the camera on the back of his head. Reasons for the mystery surrounding Kilmer’s part in The Snowman become clear when we finally see him speak on screen. The obvious dubbing of Kilmer’s voice is excruciating to sit through. Not only does it not sound like Kilmer, but the voice doesn’t match the emotional performance Kilmer is giving. His role is reduced to a character that, in his handful of scenes, does little to add to the storyline. I’m guessing there was more to Kilmer’s Gert Rafto, but it ended up on the cutting room floor – along with most of the movie’s pivotal points.
The hodgepodge that is the final product implies that the project has undergone several reshoots. Amidst the negative response from critics, Alfredson has opened up about the issues that hindered The Snowman, revealing that the gaps in the story are because 10 to 15% of the film is actually missing.
“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,” the filmmaker has told NRK (the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation), “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.”
Alfredson then went on to claim that production was rushed, stating: “It happened very abruptly – suddenly we got notice that we had the money and could start the shoot in London.”
Whatever went wrong with The Snowman‘s production, it is clear that what we as an audience are given is not what was intended. Was there another plot altogether? One that was likely similar to dramas such as The Fall where the killer and detective have a cat-and-mouse-esque rapport throughout the movie. That’s what the voice overs, snippets of deleted scenes in the trailer and marketing material suggest. A film that ends in flames and explosions, not with Fassbender in a meeting mumbling a few lines in a half-hearted attempt to set up a sequel?
The Snowman focuses far too much on Hole’s personal life, taking more time to establish and explore his complicated relationship with his ex, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who frequently pops up with some crisis related to her son Oleg whom Fassbender is a somewhat father figure for. When we see the end, it becomes evident why they were insistent on shoving Hole’s ex and her son down our throats during the movie. The only issue was that I didn’t care for them. When the serial killer eventually turns his sights to them, I was inwardly rooting for the baddie just so there could be some satisfying maniacal murder action.
With Scandinavian noir dramas such as Black Lake and Norskov hitting network television, The Snowman seems like a lukewarm budget knock off, melting among the competition. Perhaps, it would’ve faired better as a television series, allowing Nesbø’s thriller the development and dedication it deserved.
With an unfortunate script, appalling editing and a lack of direction, The Snowman doesn’t do any favours for those involved except Norway. Its sharp, snowy landscapes often steal the scene, offering some distraction from the chaos.
Part of me yearns for the action packed pursuit of a thriller that was promised in the initial trailer and I desperately hope that Fassbender can revive himself after this string of box office duds. If you really want some chills and thrills, you’re better off picking up the book.