THE SNOWMAN gets 4/10 Frosty reception

Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Starring Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourgh, J.K. Simmons


An adaptation of popular author Jo Nesbø’s best-selling novel, by director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Solider Spy) should be an easy fit, a good match of director and subject matter. Yet The Snowman fails to make audiences warm to the cases of detective Harry Hole.

Although brilliant at his job, detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) is struggling with the rest of his life. Prone to alcoholism, and estranged from the woman he loves (Charlotte Gainsbourgh), Hole requires a case worthy of his deductive skills to focus him. When a newly transferred detective, Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), draws his attention to a missing persons case Hole starts to guess that there is more to things than it appears. A sinister snowman at the scene, leads Hole and Bratt on the hunt for a serial killer that is set off by the falling snow.

What should be a rich and multi-layered mystery comes across as forced, motiveless, and muddled. There is no through line to this mystery, no chain of investigation that leads to a logical conclusion. Hole really does almost nothing through the course of the film but stumble from one lucky break to another, even the dramatic confrontation that one would expect as the finale of these sort of films, comes down purely to luck.

For a crime thriller, that really is an issue. There is little here to sell the killer’s motivation, or the police’s attempts to understand the reasons and chain of events behind the horrific crimes. Sure there are red herrings aplenty, and a couple of different back stories, but nothing clicks together neatly to sell this Nordic noir. Instead it is reliant on the strong sense of visuals, and a few disquieting crime scene stagings to give The Snowman a sense of depth –  and as pretty as the Norway countryside is, and as effectively chilling as some of the snowmen are, it’s just not enough.

Hence a great cast seems to flail about, visually perfect for the roles they’ve been cast for, but given nothing of substance to work with. Fassbender carries enough heartfelt sorrow, cold calculation, and barely repressed self-hate to fit the portrayal of alcoholic detective Harry Hole like a latex forensic glove. Yet the portrayal of the character is all surface. Despite Fassbender’s convincing acting, we never see below that to see what makes the character tick. As such it is just a good portrayal of what seems like a genre stereotype. The same can be said for the rest of the cast (Charlotte Gainsbourgh, Toby Jones, J.K. Simmons), although there is one noticeable exception. Val Kilmer is distracting in a small bit role, with prosthetic teeth and bad dubbing; he serves as an unwelcome diversion in a film story that is already feeling unfocused.

The Snowman doesn’t have enough connective tissue to be the compelling Nordic noir it should be. Little surprise there are already claims by the director that he did not get to film all the sequences he wanted to due to budget and time restraints (although as the film is already two hours, so it’s hard to imagine how bloated the alternative version would feel). What we are left with is a piecemeal and nonsensical thriller, that may visually look the part, but fails to deliver anything else. Cold comfort for fans of Jo Nesbø’s work.