It is often the case that a cinematic venture into a wildly popular novel goes striking awry, and Thomas Alfredson’s The Snowman is no exception. Adapted from Jo Nesbø’s internationally bestselling thriller of the same name, screenwriters Peter Straughan and Hossein Amini seem to have missed the mark of the novel’s original allure. A complicated and psychologically intricate story is shuffled into ninety minutes of poorly lit scenes with a fantastic cast but little to no clue as to where the film is taking us.
The film stars Michael Fassbender as Harry Hole, an alcoholic police officer in the quiet and cold city of Oslo. Hole has been falling behind in his work, rarely showing up and drunkenly passing out in whatever convenient location his head can rest – no matter if it’s a freezing park bench at a children’s playground, outside a bar in the stark Norwegian wind, or at his bizarrely nice loft, which overlooks the whole city and seems to have cost a doctor or lawyer’s salary. We get the sense that Harry was previously very famous in his best days as a crime solver, as indicated by his new detective colleague’s remark “we used to study your cases at the academy.” Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) is an excited and passionate murder detective who has been investigating a series of cold cases involving the brutal murder and decapitation of several women; specifically several young women. The link between these murders is a perfectly constructed snowman left in the general vicinity of each murder. With the help of Harry, Katrine attempts to solve these murders, though we start to get a sense halfway through that perhaps she isn’t to be trusted either.
The snowman motif, while improbable and unlikely (how does a grown murderer have enough time to construct a perfect looking snowman in the middle of the day without anyone seeing?) is an interesting link between the dichotomised theme of innocent childhood and the brutality of life – whether it be the secret truth of adult’s lives, the revelation of a child’s biological parent, the reality that a child is unloved by their parent, or the duality between a child who wishes to be loved and their sociopathic murdering tendencies. This motif is carried out well with several close shots of the melting snowman against the backdrop of a fantastic score, adding a sinister shrill to the feeling of the film.
Beyond that, the film introduces several side plots, which later become increasingly pertinent to the revealing finale, but which are so consistently soaked in un-useful ambiguity, that we’re left as unknowing audience members wondering what any of this means. The cast features a band of great actors – JK Simmons, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Chloe Sevigny – all as side characters who seem to be important to the plot, but the film fails to reveal why. In the end, everything wraps up very rapidly, and while our questions are answered about the central murder plot, many questions are left floating on the surface. The film itself was a watchable thriller, keeping the viewer spooked and engaged, but the implementation of the fantastic novel’s story was sparse. If you haven’t read the book, you may be left in oblivion at the end, and if you have, you’re almost guaranteed to be disappointed at the result.
Image: Universal Pictures