The Snowman is a confusing slog that moves too slow to be scary.
Perhaps The Snowman had too much going for it and simply buckled under the weight of its esteemed cast and crew. Based on a novel by successful Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, The Snowman was executive produced by Martin Scorsese, directed by Tomas Alfredson and stars an impressive assortment of international talent, including Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Chloë Sevigny and Anne Reid. However, the sum of all of this talent amounts to a grey, humorless film that never quite justifies its grim delivery.
Nesbø’s already popular work found a broader, international audience following the breakout success of Swedish writer Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels. The public’s appetite had been whetted for ultra-violent Scandinavian crime thrillers, and Nesbø’s novels were a perfect fit, particularly his Harry Hole series. The Snowman is actually the seventh Harry Hole novel, notable for the antagonist’s calling card: a snowman left at the site of each murder.
Alfredson would seem to be the perfect match for Nesbø. His modern horror classic Let the Right One In beautifully used its desolate Scandinavian setting as a blank canvas for horrible violence and also subversive humor, while his more recent Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy used muted colors and dilapidated settings to create a mysterious Cold War caper. While The Snowman has a similarly ramshackle feel and has enough frosty imagery to give viewers seasonal depression, it doesn’t help the film to accomplish anything. The setting, the deliberate pacing and the downtrodden style make The Snowman feel slow rather than suspenseful.
This slow pacing could have been a virtue if it was moving The Snowman to an interesting place, but the answers given are either confusing or underwhelming. And the script, adapted from Nesbø’s novel by veteran screenwriters Peter Straughan and Hossein Amini, could have helped out with more psychological probing, dark humor or both, but nuance is lacking.
Still, there are signs of life in The Snowman. The performances are strong across the board, particularly the always-interesting Gainsbourg and Ferguson, the latter managing to convey the conflicted feelings of her rookie detective character despite being saddled with an occasionally clichéd arc. Kilmer appears in flashback and is effective, if odd, in a small but pivotal role, and Sevigny and Simmons appear to be having some fun with their characters. Fassbender is an actor who does his best work when rising to a challenge, and unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be one for him here. He’s believable, but Harry Hole—despite his awkwardly pornographic name—is a complicated literary character who has been adapted into a reactive film character.
Though intentionally bland, the film features occasionally brilliant visual flourishes, courtesy of Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe (Memoirs of a Geisha), who takes a subdued color palette and uses it in inventive ways, while Marco Beltrami’s score gives The Snowman a chilling undercurrent. Despite the talent present, both in front of and behind the camera, The Snowman never completely gels, resulting in a confusing slog that moves too slow to be scary.