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‘The Snowman’ Review: Serial-Killer Thriller Is Even WTF Worse Than You’ve Heard

An open letter to star Michael Fassbender about the somewhat baffling big-screen adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s bestseller.

Dear Michael,

Can we call you Michael? Mike? No? Mr. Fassbender it is. So, we’ve seen your new movie The Snowman, and we should start off by saying we’re big fans of your work. The political prisoner on a hunger strike, the sex addict in a downward spiral, the slave owner that’s emblematic of a whole 360-degree dehumanizing institution, the mutant guy, the android guy, the guy who gets the shit kicked out of him by Gina Carano, the shirtless sword-and-sandal dude, the other shirtless sword-and-sandal dude – it’s a solid resumé, man. You’re so good you even made a musician who wears a giant paper mâché on his head for 99-percent of a film’s running time seem remarkably moving. We’re not acting coaches or anything, but that could not have been easy.

And because we’ve read the articles on Scandi-noir and have visited airport bookstores, we were aware of Jo Nesbø and his series of bestsellers about Harry Hole, the Norwegian police detective who solves grisly homicides in between vodka benders. Frankly, we were stoked to hear you’d signed up to play the character in the movie adaptation – tortured protagonists whose personal lives are a shambles but who are really good at their jobs, they’re not just for TV anymore! And crime-lit–wise, this guy is like the Philip Marlowe of Oslo, even if his name reflexively turns grown men into tittering 12-year-old boys.

(Plus, if we’re being honest, we were curious to hear you do a Norwegian accent, although you don’t do one here, no one really does, which is probably for the best, though someone should have maybe mentioned this to J.K. Simmons, who seems to be doing some sort of attempt at a Scandinavian lilt-meets-evil-industrialist voice thing, unless that’s just him with a bad cold, in which case all apologies, we realize it’s below freezing over there. Sorry, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.)

Anywhoo, this seemed like a good fit, especially because you deserve your own franchise thing that does not involve you lifting cars into the air or kissing yourself. You do tormented well. Bring on the Holeverse! Then we heard that Rebecca Ferguson, whose turn in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is something we still think of with great fondness, was also going to be in it, playing a fellow investigator, and that Swedish director Tomas Alfredson was behind the camera. You undoubtedly saw his 2011 version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – you were one of the very few U.K.-based actors who wasn’t in that movie, come to think of it – and have likely checked out Let the Right One In, which is one of the best horror flicks of the last 10 years. Pedigree? Solid. This had to have seemed like a slam dunk.

So like we said, we saw the film, and …

It’s …

Well, it’s a little confusing. And slightly incoherent in terms of how it lays out the book’s narrative about a serial killer who is targeting mothers and whose calling card is a snowman. And sort of not very good overall. It’s bad. A bit of a full-on Nesbøner, in fact. The bleached-out, blue-grey-is-the-coldest-colour cinematography looks cool at first, but after a while, it feels less about painting the Norwegian city as a morally conflicted metropolis or turning it into a metaphor for its hero’s mental state – forget it, Harry, it’s Oslo – and more like someone found a fun new filter to use. We’re sure that you and Ferguson have great screen chemistry, although given the truncated and often arrhythmic way your scenes together play out, maybe some of the exchanges or longer, more rapport-driven moments you guys shot ended up on the cutting room floor.

Speaking of Cutting Room Floor Part 1: Thelma Schoonmaker, one of the single greatest living editors, is credited as the woman behind the splice-and-dicing, which makes us wonder exactly what she had to work with when you sat down at her AVID. We’re hearing that she was brought in to bat clean-up, which still doesn’t explain the mess we’re seeing. Some folks have said it feels kind of avant-garde, which we’re pretty sure is not meant as a compliment. Speaking of Cutting Room Floor Part 2: We’re also hearing that Alfredson found himself in a tight spot and that approximately “10-15%” of the script ended up being dropped, and that does help explain the constant insert-scene-here vibe. You know what did make the final cut, though? A lost-looking Val Kilmer wandering through a subplot. Chloe Sevigny as identical twins. That “love” scene in which a fully clothed Charlotte Gainsbourg mounts you momentarily and then very calmly dismounts you. Roughly 600 shots of a snowman, accompanied by ominous blaring music, because like we said, this means the killer is nearby or was recently somewhere in the vicinity.

Look, we don’t know if you’ve seen the film, or if you have Internet access wherever you’re at, or which stage of the Actor’s Kübler-Ross model you may be at. Hopefully it’s acceptance; probably it’s anger. We’re here to tell you: It’s not your fault. You’re going to get through this. Sure, some critics may try to be cute and write high-concept pans to prove how clever they are. People will turn that ridiculous marketing campaign into memes. And Alfredson may have to spend some time in directors’ jail, though hopefully not so long he can’t bounce back and make Smiley’s People. Barring someone showing up with a time machine and whisking you back to that “Do you want to build The Snowman?” moment and this time, you answer, “Hard pass, but thanks,” you’ve got to live with this.

But everybody still has your back. We want you to succeed. We just ask that you keep going. Maybe stay away from films with lots of snow for a while. And should someone present you with a script for another Hole-centric project like The Bat or The Leopard, you sprint in the other direction ASAP.

Love, The Moviegoing Public