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Movie Review: “The Snowman” Leaves Expectations Out In The Cold

Saturday, October 21, 2017 | Review

BY MADDI MCGILLVRAY

THE SNOWMAN
Starring Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer and Chloe Sevigny
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Written by Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini, and Søren Sveistrup

One of the most anticipated thrillers of 2017, THE SNOWMAN is a somewhat frosty attempt at Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s 2007 bestselling novel of the same name. The latest film adaptation from Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, who previously helmed acclaimed titles such as LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, THE SNOWMAN is based on the seventh installment of Nesbø’s series of crime novels and follows the same protagonist. Incidentally, Martin Scorsese had originally signed on to direct the film in 2013, but removed himself from the position shortly thereafter (he is credited as a executive producer).

THE SNOWMAN follows Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender), an alcoholic and tortured detective of the Oslo Crime Squad. Together with new detective Katrine Brett (Rebecca Ferguson), the duo investigate a series of cases involving missing women in Oslo, Norway. Soon, they are lead on a cat-and-mouse chase by “the snowman killer,” a psychopathic murderer whose calling card is leaving snowmen at the site of his crimes. 

With such big names attached and an all-star cast including Michael Fassbender and J.K. Simmons, THE SNOWMAN was set to be a massive hit and possible franchise-starter. And while it succeeds at establishing a bleak atmosphere throughout, the film ultimately fails to live up to its potential. The positive: cinematographer Dion Beebe juxtaposes sweeping snow-filled cityscapes with gruesome crime scene images that effectively create a sense of despair. Additionally, the strongest performance comes not from Academy Award winner Fassbender, but Rebecca Ferguson, who’s character has hidden personal motives for wanting to catch the snowman killer.

Unfortunately, however, THE SNOWMAN suffers from some serious problems. The most concerning is, of course, that moments which are intended to be eerie or terrifying are anything but. Instead, the images of snowmen played against morose music is more comedic than horrific. One can not ignore the shockingly bad use of automated dialogue replacement (dubbing) that was used for every scene involving Val Kilmer.

The film also suffers from glaring plot holes and fails to provide much of the backstory that is needed to help support the motivations and actions of its characters. Whole subplots lead nowhere, the biggest and most disappointing involving J.K. Simmons as a politician trying to bring the World Cup to Oslo. When we finally get the answers Hole has been searching for, the payoffs do not feel all that satisfying. 

Anderson seems to have recognized where he went wrong. Before the film’s release, he expressed concerns regarding the editing of the film, claiming he was unable to shoot about 10-15% of the script.

THE SNOWMAN opens in theaters Friday, October 20th.

Maddi is a PhD student in Cinema and Media Studies at York University, where she writes extensively on the horror genre. Continuing her interest in gender and horror, Maddi is completing her doctoral dissertation on female New French Extremity directors. She is also currently writing a chapter called “To Grandmother’s House We Go: Documenting the Aging Female Body in Found Footage Horror Films,” which will be published next year in the book Elder Horror on Screen: Hermits, Harbingers, and Hags.
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