It’s been six years since the release of Tomas Alfredson’s last film, the chilly, engrossing spy drama ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, and nine years since his international breakout, the acclaimed vampiric love story, ‘Let The Right One In’. In that time I’ve fit in a lot of living, but never have I felt the gulf between those dates and today more keenly than I did whilst watching Alfredson’s new film, ‘The Snowman’, in which the director follows up two of the greatest films of the 21st century with a turgid mess so stunning in its ineptitude that it begs the question – did literally every person involved in the making of this film momentarily forget how to actually, y’know... make a film?
Ostensibly, the film focuses on Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender, 'Alien: Covenant', 'Assassin's Creed'), one of those hard-drinking and self-destructive (yet, of course, also mildly brilliant) detectives, who becomes involved in the hunt for a serial killer who’s targeting women and leaving ominous snowmen at the crime scenes. With a plucky young recruit in tow, plus links to old cases and possibly far-reaching corruption, the film’s plot is essentially what happens when you throw the entirety of the literary-detective canon into a blender, throw it at a Norwegian snow-scape and attempt to call it a film.
Adapted by multiple writers from Jo Nesbø’s seventh book chronicling the genius of his fictional detective, this is spectacularly garbled storytelling. From an opening prologue that speeds through a heinously obvious (and shockingly forthright) explanation of the killer’s pathology, the film limps dyspeptically from murder to murder, vomiting all over itself a combination of unconvincing red herrings, half-assed attempts at conspiracy and, of course, condescendingly disempowered women. Dispensing with annoying stuff like "characters" and "suspense" in favour of hoary tropes that are more just name-checked than actually used, the film fails miserably at actually getting us involved in the mystery, because there is nothing of importance to grab hold of. Even Fassbender’s Hole isn’t explored in any sort of detail, as instead the film sort of just pays lip service to his failings and then proceeds to let him coast through the rest of the movie with a look of mild consternation on his face.
No one else in the cast fares much better, as none of them are asked to actually do anything, so intense is the film’s focus on forcing out the plot and embarrassedly sashaying away like a particularly apologetic contestant on ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’. And this is a cast that includes Charlotte Gainsbourg! Rebecca Ferguson! J.K. Simmons! Toby Jones! Val Kilmer doing a strange Mickey Rourke impression! For God’s sake, even Chloë Sevigny in a dual role as identical twin chicken farming sisters barely registers – seriously, read that sentence again, it’s not a joke.
...the film limps dyspeptically from murder to murder, vomiting all over itself a combination of unconvincing red herrings, half-assed attempts at conspiracy and, of course, condescendingly disempowered women.
While ‘The Snowman’ is the latest adaptation of a huge, sensational worldwide bestseller, the best of those transcend their genre and have something of actual substance on their mind. This is no ‘Gone Girl’, with its evisceration of the modern media and the institute of marriage. It’s no ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, with its ferociously distinctive protagonist and examination of insidious, inherited misogyny. Hell, it’s not even ‘The Girl on the Train’, which at least had a passing interest in the patriarchal horrors of gaslighting, as well as having the good sense to get out of the way of Emily Blunt’s film-defying brilliance. No, ‘The Snowman’ has nothing more on its mind than the lurid, stultifying adherence to the potboiler handbook of old, but even fails at that, unable to craft the bare basics of a satisfying thriller.
And on top of all that, a postscript: nowhere to be seen in this film is a single person of colour. Or an intelligent woman making logical decisions. Instead, just an Olympic swimming pool’s worth of stupidity, and maybe the most hilariously hysterical film score I’ve heard in years. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.