The Snowman ★★ review

by Ben Nielsen

Based on the bestselling mystery novel by Jo Nesbø, The Snowman is every modern detective cliché contained neatly in a two hour runtime. Michael Fassbender plays grizzled detective Harry Hole, a chain-smoking alcoholic who lives for his job, neglects his ex-wife and stepson, and has a nasty habit of passing out drunk on park benches and in gutters; that is, until he gets drawn into a case that pits him against a serial killer who leaves a snowman as a calling card.

The Snowman; Director: Tomas Alfredon; USA 2017, 119 mins; our rating: ★★/5

Snowmen, it turns out, are not easy to make threatening on camera; an early sequence in The Snowman follows one victim heading obliviously toward doom, and is littered with shots of ominous snowmen meant to instil a sense of dread, but at best get some giggles. Jump scares, with no rhyme or reason, seem inserted at random throughout; presumably to wake up any audience members having a snooze.

The Snowman picks up as Fassbender’s rookie partner (Ferguson) drives the plot forward, linking it to a cold case from nine years previously, and to Oslo’s bid for the Winter Games. This subplot is where the film is at its best, weaving a thick layer of conspiracy through the plot, etching out some effective sequences, and shocking moments. However, it’s hard to follow; character motivations are never clearly explained.

The film rapidly falls apart in its final act, devolving into cliché, with the case becoming more and more personal for Fassbender’s grizzled detective; by this point, there’s no suspense, and no reason to care about the thin, cardboard cut-out characters that could have been pulled from any BBC primetime detective series of the past ten years.

The premise of the film is flimsy and has a grim fascination with murdered and dismembered women. The other female characters in the film, Fassbender’s wife and his partner, are given little agency and just exist to further the plot. It’s perhaps not misogynistic, but it is uncomfortable; yet another genre film that sidelines women and treats them mainly as victims. It’s a dull cliché, and it needs to be put to bed.

Norway, the film’s setting, is presented gloriously with lingering shots of frozen rivers and falling snow providing a fantastic backdrop for the action. It’s almost a shame that the film arrives so shortly after the fantastic Wind River, which makes more effective use of its snowbound setting; still, a visual treat in places.

During an effective chiller let down by clichés and a weak third act, Fassbender nevertheless puts in a great performance as Hole; whilst Ferguson valiantly tries to make the best of her own character, The Snowman itself never delivers on its most promising aspects.

Ben watches a crazy amount of films and gets far too emotionally involved in them. Favourite film of all time is Whiplash and absolutely hates bland action films.

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