Thursday, 3 September 2020

Movie Review: The Snowman (2017)

A psychological serial killer mystery, The Snowman offers a majestically forlorn aesthetic and a rich set of characters, but confused construction undermines the film's effectiveness.

In a prologue set in rural Norway, a young boy witnesses his single mother being physically abused by a man who may or may not be his father. The boy is then traumatized by his mother's horrific death.

Years later, Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) is a washed-up police detective in Oslo. His relationship with Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) has collapsed, and now he sleeps with the bottle, if he sleeps at all. Missing persons detective Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) relocates to Oslo from Bergen, and Harry helps her investigate the disappearance of single mother Birte Becker, with a creepy snowman left near the missing woman's apartment.

The case brings back memories of a cold case when detective Rafto (Val Kilmer) investigated a missing woman suspected of having an affair with business tycoon Arve Stop (J.K. Simmons). Now Stop is leading Oslo's bid to host an international sports event, and Katrine is keen to explore his connection to Birte's doctor Idar Vetlesen. Meanwhile Rakel's new partner doctor Mathias Lund-Helgesen (Jonas Karlsson) is friendly towards Harry and they are both keen to help Rakel's surly teenaged son Oleg. However, Harry is soon distracted by more missing women and gruesome murders.

An adaptation of the Jo Nesbø book, The Snowman is a reasonably good murder mystery, but also infuriatingly incohesive.  Director Tomas Alfredson creates a suitably frigid Nordic mood, with plenty of spooky moments to prey on the alcohol-compromised mind of detective Harry Hole. He is surrounded by intriguing characters from the past and present, and enough raw material to maintain a high level of engagement.

But a rushed production schedule resulted in a few scenes not being filmed, and the editing job could only rescue so much. Too many plot points are underdeveloped or abandoned, not by intellectual design but rather botched delivery. The Arve Stop story about a respectable pillar of society embroiled in a prostitution ring exploiting immigrants is much more than a subplot, and yet is left exposed in a snowstorm. A mould problem at Harry's apartment with shifty workers helping themselves in and out is another victim of truncated development.

And essential psychological and practical components of the central mystery, including the snowman symbolism, body desecration, and the murderer's connection to his victims and opportunity to plot and execute the killings, are at best scrambled and sometimes plain illogical.

And yet the film hints at what could have been. Fassbender sinks into Harry Hole with his eyes leaving tired behind and now just pleading for relief. Alfredson injects the murder scenes with plenty of eerie build-up followed by short and sharp venom, and the snow-blanketed scenery is gorgeous, augmented by a threatening Marco Beltrami music score. 

The Snowman stands sad in a blizzard, pregnant with promise, missing one ball.



All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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