Even if you aren’t familiar with Jo Nesbø’s best-selling crime novels about Detective Harry Hole, you’ve probably seen the marketing campaign for The Snowman, the first English-language film adaptation of his work. The posters and images all feature a crude, stick-figure snowman and the scrawled phrase: “Mister police, you could have saved her. I gave you all the clues.” It’s supposed to be a creepy, unsettling message written by a serial killer. But really, the whole thing is all just rather silly. And, it turns out, so is The Snowman.
The Snowman follows the adventures of Harry Hole — yes, that’s his real name — as played by a brooding Michael Fassbender. Hole is your stock troubled genius detective character: He’s brilliant and uses unorthodox methods, but he’s also struggling with alcoholism and his fraught relationship with his ex-girlfriend Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her son Oleg (Michael Yates). Before long, he forms a partnership with a young colleague named Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) as they start to investigate a series of mysterious killings. All the victims are young mothers, and there’s usually some sort of creepy, frowning snowman involved. (With the exception of the “mister police” note sent to Hole at the beginning of the movie, the killer doesn’t actually leave any real clues for Hole, let alone “all the clues.”) And so begins a twisty tale of inexplicable red herrings, baffling plot detours, and Chloe Sevigny as not one but two identical chicken farmers.
J.K. Simmons is also there as a sketchy industrialist trying to attract the Winter Games to Oslo. Val Kilmer shows up, too, in flashbacks as a detective looking into a similar case. In fact, perhaps the most surprising thing about The Snowman is not its lack of quality, but its lack of quality with so many talented people involved. Director Tomas Alfredson is responsible for 2011’s successful Cold War spy drama Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but The Snowman is completely bereft of either style or emotion. There are a few lovely shots of Norway’s dangerous but compelling natural beauty, but mostly the entire film is shot in shades of dull, slushy gray. Fassbender is entirely charmless as the troubled Harry Hole, and even though other characters keep telling us he’s a genius, he doesn’t come off as all that bright. As for the titular snowman, well… At a recent press screening, whenever the sinister snowy face would pop up, the audience would dissolve into giggles. This is one serial killer thriller that’ll leave you feeling cold. C-