In these “peak TV” days, Scandi-noir mystery-thrillers—chilly, dark, brooding—have had their moment in the midnight sun. There was the Swedish-Denmark co-production The Bridge, England’s Wallander (adapting Henning Mankell’s novels), even our own Northern Ontario-set Cardinal.
But, it’s not just that The Snowman, adapting Norwegian Jo Nesbø’s novel, comes late to the party. This flick can’t quite put its feet right, stumbling around in deep powder, getting colder and colder.
In Oslo, the reportedly masterful detective and clearly alcoholic Harry Hole (also winner of worst-ever character name in an English-translation bestseller) finds he has a Jack (Frost?) the Ripper-style pen pal—he gets a taunting note with a drawing of a snowman.
Soon, Hole (Michael Fassbender) and new partner Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) are finding one murdered woman after another, the location of their cut-up bodies marked by a snowman.
There’s also an overwrought childhood flashback prologue meant to explain the killer’s psychopathology and an unnecessary side-trip that Hole takes to Bergen, Norway part of a backstory where Val Kilmer is distractingly odd as yet another drunken Norwegian detective. Most of this thriller’s quite wonky, really, its rhythm jagged and its pacing off. (Speaking of big holes, director Thomas Alfredson has complained/explained that 10 to 15 percent of the original screenplay wasn’t shot because of shooting schedule constraints.)
One murder scene’s made confusing when the victim’s identical twin suddenly pops up; the action climax of Hole’s showdown in a house with the killer is choppily edited.
All the menace can get garbled by kookiness and (Norwegian blue?) cheese.
A laughable sex scene’s scored to a Sigur Rós track (surely not even snowboots-knocking music in Iceland); a background event is Oslo’s “Winter Sports World Cup” bid, featuring fancy-dress guests’ glowing ice blue lapels.
The hunt for the killer gets so personal for Hole that this adaptation would have had more gravitas as a late entry in a TV series where we’ve already gotten to know Hole, and even Bratt, much better. The movie’s rather leering in its look at decapitated and blown-off heads. Basically, The Snowman’s just not worth sticking your neck out for.