- “The Snowman” is a massive critical and commercial failure despite the talent behind it.
- That’s because of a series of bizarre miscalculations in the movie’s production and marketing.
- Here’s what went wrong.
On paper, “The Snowman” looked like it would be a box office home-run and a major Oscar contender.
Instead, it’s a total disaster.
“The Snowman” stars Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson, both respected actors. It’s directed by Tomas Alfred son, who made the critically acclaimed and Oscar-nominated “Tinker Tailor Solider Spy” and “Let the Right One In.” It’s based on an adaptation of a bestselling murder mystery by Jo Nesbø. And it’s produced by Martin Scorsese.
What went wrong? Pretty much everything. Here’s a breakdown.
1. The movie is just really, really bad.
As many reviews will attest, “The Snowman” is an awful movie. It somehow has too little going on — gaps in the storytelling that make it incomprehensible — and is weirdly repetitive. It definitely isn’t thrilling or scary or whatever else a serial killer mystery thriller is supposed to be.
2. Don’t take my word for it. Even the director was apologetic.
In a strange interview with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, Alfredson said he didn’t get to finish shooting the script. About 10% to 15% went unfilmed.
“Our shoot time in Norway was way too short, we didn’t get the whole story with us and when we started cutting we discovered that a lot was missing,” he explained, according to a translation by IndieWire. “It’s like when you’re making a big jigsaw puzzle and a few pieces are missing so you don’t see the whole picture.”
3. It used its starry cast weirdly.
In addition to Fassbender and Ferguson, “The Snowman” has an excellent supporting cast. It includes Charlotte Gainsbourg, Toby Jones, J.K. Simmons, Chloë Sevigny, and Val Kilmer.
Unfortunately, all of them have bizarre roles in the movie. Gainsbourg shapes up to become an important character, but for some reason begins behaving erratically and irrationally later in the movie. Toby Jones is one of those actors you’re pleasantly surprised to see in a movie but has little to do here. And J.K. Simmons has a truly bizarre accent that is definitely not to my taste. The movie plays him up to be an important character (he’s trying to secure Oslo as the city to host the soccer world cup), but by the end of it, it’s hard to see why he even needed to be in the picture.
The two actors who the movie mistreats the most are Sevigny and Kilmer. Sevigny briefly shows up as a woman who quickly gets murdered, and then she shows up again as the dead woman’s twin sister, who says little more than “I’m her twin sister” before disappearing from the movie.
Kilmer’s plot thread is even more confusing. He plays a policeman who was on the killer’s tail some years previously, I think? At some point, he comes across a dead body, stares at it for a minute, and fires a gun into the air. In another scene, he’s in the police station and gets a note from the killer, then walks over to a window in another room and climbs out through it. Oh, and almost all of his lines are dubbed by another actor.
There’s just no reason for audience members who are fans of any of those actors to pay for a ticket to see the movie.
4. It’s not scary or thrilling.
Look, if you have a mystery about a serial killer in Norway who cuts up bodies, it better be scary. At the very least, it should be thrilling and intriguing like “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” which was part of the same wave of Scandanavian crime novels as “The Snowman.” This movie was neither.
Mostly, it was just confusing. But what got the most snickers in the audience are the damned snowmen. The murderer leaves a little snowman by the dead bodies in his wake. The problem is, they’re not not very spooky. If anything, they’re kind of cute and pathetic, like they were made by a four-year-old without much energy. The movie also played up scary music cues whenever we saw a snowman, which felt like overkill.
No one wants to watch a scary crime thriller called “The Snowman” where everyone treats the snowman like a joke.
5. No one knows who Harry Hole is.
“The Snowman” is one of Jo Nesbø’s many crime novels starring detective Harry Hole (played by Fassbender in the movie). Hole, despite his funny name, has his own mythology in Nesbø’s novels. He’s a brilliant loose-cannon detective who cracks every case. In the right hands, he could be a compelling onscreen character.
But the movie adaptation of “The Snowman” never builds up that world. Hole is mostly as hapless and confused as the plot itself rather than being an eccentric genius. Compare it to the “Dragon Tattoo” movies and books, for example. Everyone was obsessed with Lisbeth Salander, the rebellious goth computer hacker. “The Snowman” never makes a compelling case for Hole as an interesting star character.
6. The marketing campaign was hard to understand.
Universal, which is distributing “The Snowman,” put together a cryptic marketing campaign. The posters teased a childish drawing of a snowman and letters that began with “Mister Police,” a reference to the clues the killer sent Hole in the movie.
People just made fun of it.
[whispers to date while watching THE SNOWMAN when Michael Fassbender appears onscreen]: that’s mister police
— Emma SteFANGsky (@stefabsky) October 18, 2017
OK, but should I still watch it?
“The Snowman” isn’t bad in a campy way that makes it fun to ironically watch. It’s just bad. The story is confusing, and the chilly Norway-set footage makes it a slog to sit through.
A lot of people involved in this movie are really talented, so let’s just hope they get their act together the next time around.