Review: Though Entertaining, 'The Snowman' Lacks Thrill

Toni Gangi ’21 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Do you want to build a snowman? Oslo’s leading detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) sure doesn’t. Once you get past a title like The Snowman for a supposed mystery/thriller, this film is, in the end, decently entertaining.

The film centers around Oslo’s lead detective Harry Hole, your classic rough-around-the edges-character. He’s a drinker and chain-smoker, but he’s willing to do just about anything to keep his city and loved ones safe. Just before a young woman goes missing, Hole receives a mysterious handwritten note, complete with a drawing of an unhappy snowman at the bottom. It quickly becomes apparent that this is not a regular missing person case and there may be connections to older, unsolved murders. Detective Hole joins forces with police force newcomer Katrine Brat (Rebecca Ferguson) to put the pieces together. There is a serial killer in Oslo. His telltale mark is a snowman. And he wants to play games.

At least, that’s the summary the film sets up the audience to believe. And it almost succeeds! But, due to both story problems and complexities, it is not that simple.

Rebecca Ferguson and Michael Fassbender in The Snowman. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

The female characters of the film, especially Ferguson’s Katrine, are undersold. This becomes glaringly obvious as the film progresses. The desires of these women, not the hero, are the true driving forces of this story. Familial devotion and parental love, unexpectedly, is deeply rooted in this tale. As a drunk with ex-girlfriend problems and a son he doesn’t see often, this is something Hole only has experience in by chance. Katrine has a personal stake in the case that will drive her to do whatever it takes to solve it. Harry’s only desire to solve the case appears to be the fact that it is his job as a detective. It is even Katrine who is the first to suggest two major developments in solving the mystery. In fact, it is not difficult to imagine the case of The Snowman Killer without Harry Hole at all. As long as Katrine and the murderer exist in the same world, there would have been a story.

There are also problems with the mystery itself unfolding. The use of flashback scenes meant to portray the cold case that Harry and Katrine look at in relation to their own killer only serve to confuse the story, as there are few tells to indicate a shift in the timeline has occurred. There is, oddly, no real sense of a cat-and-mouse game or much urgency at all for a film that uses threatening notes sent to the police as its promotional material. Perhaps most glaringly, this is also one of those investigation films where search warrants are mentioned and teamwork is implied, but neither are followed through.

However, it is not until the end of the film when one realizes that The Snowman has left something to be wanted. Throughout, it is fairly enjoyable. There is some gore and the film does not shy away from showing violent death. These parts are the most thrilling things about this “thriller.” At the very least, it does succeed in making the audience forget their own lives while trying to figure out the mystery. It is the kind of movie where the audience gets to think through things just as the characters do, even if what they’re trying to think through is simply how one scene relates to the next and not whodunit.

Rebecca Ferguson in The Snowman. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

Perhaps most positively, the setting of Norway is practically a character itself. The wintry setting draws the audience in and almost makes you feel chilly in the warm, crowded theater. The opening moments showing a beautiful snowy landscape immediately drop you into the story. Just about each and every one of the early shots illustrates exactly the isolation various characters must feel throughout the film in a beautiful and compelling way. The ever-present cloud of breath as characters stand outside somehow serves to make those scenes even more three-dimensional.

If you don’t think too much about it, this is a decent film. It had the potential to be better if only the main points from the book were more clear, but there have been worse attempts. At least no magical-haired toddlers will be asking you if you want to build a snowman. You just might leave the theater a little wary of frowning snowmen, so don’t offend Olaf.

Overall Grade: B

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