The Snowman is a new murder mystery film based on a best-selling book by Jo Nesbo that I have not read. It’s something like the seventh book in the (ahem) Harry Hole series of Norwegian detective novels, of which I’ve read the first (The Bat) so I don’t know the source material very well. But I can’t imagine it’s as messed up, poorly edited, poorly plotted, or as straight-up confounding as this disaster of a movie.
No, really. It’s that bad. A train-wreck of a film with almost no redeeming qualities. In fact, the best part of the movie is the location since it’s filmed in Norway and there’s some interesting architecture and some neat bridges and tunnels. Really… I was thinking, “Hey, that’s a pretty neat looking bridge… I wonder if they’ll show more” while watching this turgid slog of a movie. I’d say the cinematography was good but that’s only because they were filming on location.
Michael Fassbender plays Harry Hole, a detective they unconvincingly inform us half-way through the movie is a decorated police officer but who now has one personality trait. He’s an unconvincing drunk… he doesn’t look much like a drunk, he doesn’t act much like a drunk beyond the first few scenes… but that’s his only personality so we’ll have to hang on to it. We are sporadically informed of his deeply uninteresting relationships with his ex-girlfriend and her son who he’s not related to… but we get no real background on this or his past as a cop. He even asks for a fellow cop’s sidearm late in the movie and I was thinking, “Wait…. does he have the authority to take someone off the case? What is his rank? I thought he was just a detective.” Fassbender is a good actor… but you could have fooled me in this movie.
Anyhow, there’s a murderer killing women with young children during snowfalls who randomly builds snowmen that the movie tries really hard to make ominous. They are, in fact, not at all ominous. They are silly… and they do not (despite the trailers) usually hide body parts (which might have been creepy).
Fassbender and his, I guess, partner played by Rebecca Ferguson are on the case. I say “I guess” about his partner because she’s working a missing persons case and Fassbender’s character has nothing to do supposedly because Norway doesn’t have enough murders (despite all the cold case and current case dead bodies in this film)… so he just bums a ride with her one day and then inserts himself into her investigation. Which, hey, does ultimately involve this snowman murderer so I guess he got lucky….
The plot of this movie is a mess… there’s a lot of convoluted stuff that happens that doesn’t seem related to anything else and the scenes are cut together so poorly that it gets the Batman v. Superman award for “is this a real movie?”. A good whodunit should have red herrings and misdirection but why part of the plot involves whether or not Norway gets the next Winter games is baffling to me (for example). I think back to scene after disconnected scene and am baffled what they were trying to do much of the time.
In fact, the director has said recently that 10-15% of the script wasn’t even filmed because Norway’s tax credits ran out… and that explains why there seems to be missing scenes, awkward cuts, etc. That may be true and maybe they did stitch together what they could but that’s not really an excuse for something this messed up.
There’s also weird audio choices and obviously inserted ADR dialog all over the place (probably used to try to cover up scenes that were not shot). I can’t do anything but give two examples… there’s a random shot of a guy holding a cat which makes the strangest non-cat like sounds. I was baffled what was making that sound… maybe a sewer monster? An evil snowman? It wasn’t a sound a cat makes…. There’s another scene where Fassbender fires his gun in the air and it makes a muffled noise that seems like it was supposed to play in the next shot where people in a cabin hear it from a great distance.
There are other weird things… like all the attention the movie gives to the allegedly high-tech ipad-like tablet PCs the detectives take on their cases. More time is spent explaining how amazing these devices are than are given to Fassbender’s backstory or personality. This tablet is about the size of an iPad Pro and takes finger prints and records video… but my iPhone can do that too and it isn’t thick as a brick. One character places this thing on a bookcase in order to secretly film a suspect… but nobody could miss this giant prop replacing their books. It may seem like a nitpick, but they make this thing a plot point that you can’t just ignore.
And then there’s the utterly perplexing and completely distracting appearance of Val Kilmer in poorly transitioned flashbacks. Val Kilmer’s face is square-jawed and mottled in a way that made me concerned for his health. And his dialog was clearly dubbed in by someone else in a very unconvincing way. Not only doesn’t it sound anything like Val Kilmer, it’s not a voice that matches his appearance. But that’s ok because the movie usually awkwardly cuts away when he does “speak”… In the few shots where we see him open his mouth to speak, it’s also poorly lip-synced.
I’ve read since I saw the movie that Val Kilmer is in bad health due to oral cancer and this is his first major appearance in a movie since he got better. He says his tongue was swollen during this scenes which explains his puffed out squarish jaw and why he couldn’t deliver dialog. So they found another actor to do the dub… which is weird since they could have brought him in for ADR once his tongue wasn’t swollen… I feel bad for Val Kilmer and want to credit the movie, I guess, for giving him some work… but between this and the 10-15% missing script, that’s a lot of bad decision making.
This is a grand disaster of a movie that barely makes sense and is only good for the scenery. There’s huge plot holes, weird, confusing, and inept editing, and a huge lack of characters or motivations throughout. I’m honestly astounded a major Hollywood studio would allow this movie to get released in this state. It’s so dour and humorless that any amusement you may get out of it is at its expense but even the allegedly creepy snowmen aren’t enough for the otherwise sheer boredom of its two hour run time.