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Movie Review: The Snowman

The unusual The Snowman wastes its great cast on a careless and disposable plot.

Review by Matt Cummings

October is supposed to be the beginning of Oscar season, when serious candidates strut their stuff in an attempt to win our hearts and ostensibly the MPAA. Sadly The Snowman fails to achieve either goal, delivering an unusual and thoroughly disappointing mess that makes it one of the worst movies of the year.

Olso Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) has a problem: he needs a case and soon. Drunk most of the time, the leader of an elite homicide squad has seen his marriage to Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) dissolve and his relationship with his son entering a new phase. Soon, Hole gets his wish, as Oslo is gripped by a series of high-profile murders, in which a snowman appears outside the victim's home. Hole is assisted by the recruit Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), who herself holds a dark secret that might have something to do with the murders. Their investigation takes them industrialist Arve Stop (J.K. Simmons), who is leading the charge to host a Winter Olympics. As Hole gets closer (and at one point, farther) to the killer, the two square off in a deadly battle as the killer targets his family.

The Snowman starts off pretty well, then descends into an incoherent vibe ala Twin Peaks, skipping back and forth in time with a mostly unrecognizable Val Kilmer, before arriving at a cliche moment in which the bad guy tells the hero of his dastardly plan. From my research, it appears that Director Tomas Alfredson was unable to finish his movie on time, missing several key scenes and forcing Editors Claire Simpson and Thelma Schoonmaker to attempt something close to Vietnam in film terms. Kilmer and SJF favorite Toby Jones are so misused in this - featured in a grand total of 3 three uninspiring scenes - that you're left wondering why they they ever chose to sign on in the first place. That's just one corner of disaster behind The Snowman, and it gets much, much worse.

Another involves the sadly miscast JK Simmons as an industrialist with a flair for underage girls and sexy hook-ups, supported by a doctor who almost has a crush on him. He's part of a subplot that is literally a waste of time, serving the overall story to zero degree. Families of the victims are brushed aside, minimized as either troubled spouses (James D'Arcy) or as freaks who slaughter chickens (I'm not kidding - Chloë Sevigny plays twins here) before getting beheaded themselves. All Fassbender and Ferguson can do is play their seen-that-before roles, one as the brilliant (who's not really that brilliant) but disturbed cop and the other as the vengeful and careless cop who eventually finds herself separated from the rest of her body. Hole just looks like a fool for half of this movie, while Ferguson comes off as careless before she meets her end. It's just another moment on the potholed road through the European version of Twin Peaks, which is apparently called Oslo.

Noting here feels right. Even Hole's relationship with his Rakel has zero chemistry. She chooses some of the strangest outfits to wear (leather skirt with jeans underneath?), and their sex scene feels way undercooked. Alfredson would have done better to swap Ferguson and Giansbourg, but I doubt it would have made a difference. The final 10 minutes is about as messy as they get, with Hole squaring off against the killer, who I personally picked out early in Act 2. It's supposed to feel like Se7en in terms of the buildup, but we never get there. The killer kills because he's messed up, loves slicing up his victims and re-arranging them - for reasons which are never made clear - and then displaying a snowman near his intended targets. By the way, Hole never figures this out, which just makes him look like a greater fool. Perhaps the worst part of The Snowman is the way Alfredson misuses this incredible cast: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of my favorite spy movies, a study in slow-burn brilliance which actually included the aforementioned Jones. The trailers make The Snowman look like a prestige project, but it's laughingly bad, easily breaking down the moment any critical eye is cast upon it.

The final scene of The Snowman suggests that a sequel could be in the works. Let's hope not: this is one of the worst films of the year, a turgid, frostbitten and oddly-conceived thriller that makes poor choices about its plot and consistently misuses its incredible cast. It seems unlikely that a Director's Cut will clean up this mess - or one ever be commissioned - so mark this one as yet another example of a film that's really only as good as its trailer.

The Snowman is rated R for grisly images, violence, some language, sexuality and brief nudity and has a runtime of 119 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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