3/10 The tagline for The Snowman reads, “I gave you all the clues,” which is ironic, since director/executive producer Tomas Alfredson couldn’t give us all of the scenes.
In Oslo, Norway, detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) — hahahaha, his name is Harry Hole! — shambles around the snowy city streets in a permanent alcoholic stupor. An ace detective despite his addiction, he tags along with new transfer Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) on a missing persons report that turns out to be connected to a gruesome serial killer who targets single mothers and leaves snowmen at the scenes of his crimes.
Concurrent with the case, Hole deals with the complicated relationships with his ex-girlfriend Rakel Fauske (Charlotte Gainsbourg), her teenage son Oleg (Michael Yates) and her current boyfriend, Mathias Lund-Helgesen (Jonas Karlsson). Oleg doesn’t know who his biological father is, but looks up to Hole, who was dating Fauske during Oleg’s formative years.
So the story on The Snowman, as admitted by Alfredson himself, is this isn’t the whole thing. He told the Norwegian Broadcast Association earlier this month that the shooting time in Norway was too short, and somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the script was never shot.
Well, actually, Norse newspapers report that production ran Jan. 18-April 1, 2016, so no, the shooting time wasn’t too short, you were on location for two and a half months — you just didn’t do your fucking job. If his excuse wasn’t thin enough, the crew came out again this spring for reshoots after having had an entire year to go over the holes in what they already had. There is absolutely no excuse for this movie to not be done.
Nothing demonstrates this production’s failure to solve even the most basic problems quite like The Snowman’s highlight, Val Kilmer’s utterly bizarre extended cameo. Kilmer plays Gert Rafto, a similarly booze-addled detective who investigated the snowman killer nine years earlier in Bergen — though “plays” might be a bit strong of a term for what he does. All of his dialogue is very obviously dubbed over with absolutely no attention to detail. The voice doesn’t sound like it’s coming from Rafto’s mouth — sound editing is a massive technical problem in The Snowman overall — and though the words match his lips’ movement, their cadence doesn’t, creating a unique and outright disturbing uncanny valley effect. All of his scenes are edited around having him speak on camera as little as possible, creating a lot of weird cuts and scenes that generally scream that something is wrong.
The most prominent rumor here is that Kilmer, who had been denying reports of having terminal cancer for years, had a tumor in his tongue and just couldn’t say his lines intelligibly. This begs a bevy questions — why was he cast? Why wasn’t more effort put into the dubbing? Why weren’t they able to fix it during reshoots? Why didn’t they edit his scenes out of the story entirely? Why didn’t they do literally anything other than what they did?
Though Kilmer’s role sticks out like a sore thumb, these questions could be asked about almost every individual aspect of the film.
Even if Alfredson had the time he thinks he would have needed — if you can’t shoot a 119 minute movie in two months with $35 million worth of crew and equipment, there’s really no amount of time that would be enough — there’s no reason to believe The Snowman would get any better. Most of the plot problems are because of information that’s contradictory, not missing, or because of weird interruptions to the detective plot. The movie keeps wandering off from itself for Hole to try to bond with his ex-girlfriend’s son or for a weird subplot with business mogul Arve Støp (J.K. Simmons) trying to bring the Winter sports world cup to Oslo.
Even in the scenes that were freakishly edited around Kilmer might have been more or less the same — Alfredson is a big fan of disembodied voices, unclear plotlines and having the camera float listlessly to the left, the staple camera trick for any director who doesn’t really know what he’s doing. His last movie, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, is on Netflix, give it a look. Despite being critically acclaimed in 2011, it’s really not much better than The Snowman.
It’s a shame that such a thematically rich movie led by one of the best actors in the world was handled this shoddily. The Snowman abounds with parallels and strong ideas for a metanarrative. Every major character but Hole lacks a father figure, and he is himself the father figure that Oleg lacks. They all react in different ways. Støp overcomes his orphanhood and builds a business empire, Bratt seeks revenge through police work and the snowman killer takes it out on women who choose to be single mothers. All the elements are here for a thoughtful movie about the damage of parental abandonment wrapped up in a grisly murder mystery.
Too bad it was saddled with a third-rate, defeatist, disinterested, unimaginative director who’s primary excuse is that he doesn’t know how to operate a calendar.
The Snowman is being hailed as the worst movie of 2017. In a year that boasts Fifty Shades Darker, Transformers 5, The Emoji Movie and Universal’s own The Mummy, that’s simply not the case. However, given that it was deliberately released without being completed, it is impossible to recommend. Do not pay to see this movie under any circumstance.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate and a syndicated columnist with the Lewisville Texan Journal. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.