No, not a remake of the beloved Raymond Briggs tale that traumatised a whole generation of kids with its painfully sad ending.
Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s book of the same name, The Snowman stars Michael Fassbender as Oslo Detective Harry Hole who starts investigating the disappearances of several women, soon realising that it’s the work of a serial killer with a tendency to leave snowmen around his victims’ houses. Alongside new recruit Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), Hole finds himself drawn into a cat-and-mouse game with the killer, investigating shady doctors and crooked businessmen while also trying to spend time with his estranged son.
Despite being the archetypal character that you’d expect to find in this kind of story – a brooding, hard drinking loner who lives for his work, grisly murders and who has his personal demons as well as a whole heap of family issues – Michael Fassbender is commanding and charismatic, as you’d rightly expect from him by now, and despite being an ultimately forgettable character (is this a backhanded compliment or what?!), Fassbender is great to watch throughout and he elevates the material rather admirably; had a lesser actor been cast in the role, the film wouldn’t have worked as well. And alongside him, Rebecca Ferguson is a great and confident co-lead, making more of an impression than her slightly forgettable turn in the inherently forgettable Life, and she works well with both the material and with Michael Fassbender. There are plenty of big names to be found in The Snowman, such as Toby Jones, Chloe Sevigny, J. K. Simmons, Genevieve O’Reilly, Anne Reid and David Dencik (wonderfully creepy just like he was in Top of the Lake: China Girl), and they’re all a fine ensemble but many of them aren’t in it for long and are ultimately just beefed up cameos.
And Val Kilmer also makes an appearance in a truly odd, misguided piece of casting; I’m not entirely sure whether he’s just aged really badly or whether he was intentionally made to look ridiculous, appearing with Vito Corleone-style jowels and bushy eyebrows, but his inclusion will surely inspire confusion, bewilderment and unintentional laughter. Plus, his dialogue was recorded badly, not synching up properly to how his mouth was moving onscreen – most offputting.
From a technical standpoint, The Snowman hits all the right notes and the film quality is of a high standard; the snow covered Oslo landscapes manage to look both beautiful as well as foreboding and Marco Beltrami’s accompanying score is really great – an ideal fit as it channels a certain amount of Bernard Herrmann, using an admirable, swelling, string-based score to ramp up the tension and intrigue. Tomas Alfredson’s direction is overall on point as he admirably injects the film with a decent amount of mystery and gets the best out of his actors.
The film has an interesting enough story and it has a lot of what you’d expect from a decent Scandi-Noir that you might see on TV (albeit with higher production values): there’s two slightly mismatched detectives working a case involving a serial killer, they both have their inner demons, there are plenty of red herrings and false leads throughout and it all culminates in a final confrontation. And although The Snowman isn’t all that exciting or thrilling, it’s hardly ever boring, despite its understandably leisurely pace, and I was constantly curious to see just how the story would progress.
But it does indeed get to a point where the film outstays its welcome somewhat and you find yourself wishing that it would wrap up promptly; the film could have used a bit of a trim as it is a bit too long and the segments that focus on Harry and his family start to go nowhere. The story also tends to get a little confusing and overly expositional at times, certain plot threads/ideas start to become irrelevant and nonsensical, and at the end of the day, the film could have been that bit more effective if it were just a tad more compact.
It’s also worth mentioning that the trailer would have you believe that the killer has the mind of a child, because disassembling the bodies is “what a child would do”, but confusingly, this doesn’t come into play at any point in the film, neither does Bratt’s theory that “the falling snow sets him off”; the ultimate reasons for the killer taking certain body parts is simply to provide a more gruesome death scene. And its not made clear enough why he builds snowmen in the first place – simply for calling card purposes, I guess.