Director Tomas Alfredson has not made a film since Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in 2011. Prior to that, he made Let the Right One In in 2008. Back in theaters this week with The Snowman, he gives us an unusual mixture of his two previous movies. He brings in the good part of Let the Right One In with its cold, wintry setting, but the bad part of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with its slow, deliberate pace. It results in one of those rare movies about which I wasn’t merely neutral when I saw it; I actively disliked it.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you might be expecting a fast-paced thriller focused on a serial killer that builds snowmen out of body parts, taunting the police with cryptic notes. Except for the fast-paced part, the rest is a relatively minor part of the overall movie. Instead of being the focus, this is happening in the background. More screen time is spent on confusing red herrings that ultimately have nothing to do with anything. Connections are so vague that any intended last minute twists turn into “so-whats.”
I hate to criticize a movie for attempting to feature character development, but that might be one of The Snowman‘s problems. In fact, it’s almost like it uses reverse-character development. We get a lot of information spoon fed to us about the characters’ histories and backgrounds… from where they’ve come, but not much about where they’re going. This is with the supporting characters, though. We know virtually nothing about the lead, Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender). He’s flawed, and not unappealing, but there’s no depth to him.For a while, we think the prologue of the movie is about Harry. Instead, it’s a badly handled case of misdirection about someone else. I haven’t read the “best-selling” novel on which the movie is based, but I have to believe it was poorly adapted in the screenplay by its writers, Hossein Amini & Peter Straughan & Soren Sveistrup. Alfredson’s (and editors Thelma Schoonmaker and Claire Simpson) method of telling the story with short scenes that travel unexpectedly back and forth in time may have been attempts to add style where there’s no substance.
Unfortunately, the result often makes no sense. It’s not that the plot itself is confusing. For example, it’s apparent that Harry and co-investigator Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) have different motives. Well, I’m not sure what Harry’s motives are, but Katrine’s are definitely of a more personal nature. However, they both act more on impulse than on intelligence, which places them in coincidental situations that move the movie forward, but not necessarily the solution of the mystery.
A better way to express my overall thoughts about The Snowman just dawned on me. It’s like the second movie in a series of films where we’ve already learned Harry’s background and motivations. It might be a better sequel than an original. A-ha! I now learn that the novel is the seventh one in a Harry Hole series. Fans of the book may end up liking the movie. But I didn’t, and when the end indicated there could be another movie featuring the Harry Hole character, I didn’t cheer. I grimaced.