Film, Phd

The Snowman film review: a snow storm in a teacup

Image via IMDB

The Snowman is a Nordic-noir thriller based on the bestseller by Jo Nesbø, adapted by screenwriters Peter Straughan and Hossein Amini and directed by Tomas Alfredson. The film is set in Norway, in Oslo, Bergen and Geilo. There are absolutely beautiful shots of the Oslo-Bergen railway throughout the film, as well as sweeping shots of the frozen harbours in the Norwegian winter.

Michael Fassbender plays the lead character, Harry Hole, an alcoholic, jaded senior detective based in Oslo. Women start going missing as the snow falls, all married with children. Fassbender is joined by Rebecca Ferguson, who plays the determined but slightly foolish Katrine Bratt, a young policewoman and together they try to get to the bottom of the disappearances.

Quickly, we realise that the missing women are being murdered, and in very gruesome ways. This film is gory with scenes of extreme violence, and for some people the gore might be too much. There is a decapitation scene, but I felt it was almost silly, as opposed to being genuinely frightening.

The killer leaves a snowman at the scene of each of his murders, although this clue isn’t picked up on quickly by the detectives. The cinematography in those scenes is very good, as the snowmen look menacing, but not quite terrifying. There is one truly chilling moment in the film, and that is when the detectives realise that the killer has reported a woman as missing before killing her, purely to play with them.

Fassbender plays Hole as a multi-dimensional character, pulling him out of the alcoholic rogue cop stereotype. We see a lot of his complex relationship with his ex-girlfriend and her son, who views Hole as his father. The film focuses a lot on the relationship between a parent and their child, and how this bond affects the child in later life. The film also explores the idea of motherhood, but in places seems to be judgemental of any woman who doesn’t want to be a mother. In that sense, parts of the film reminded me of Psycho/ the Bates Motel, with a young fatherless boy obsessed with his mother, and projecting his violent thoughts onto other women.

The film is clever. Although I had seen the twist coming before the end, there is a point about two-thirds into the film that several men look sinister enough to be the killer. However, in other respects the film lets itself down. The gruesome death of a main character is largely ignored and there is no closure for their death at the end of the movie, nor is there any real plot benefit to their death. Also, the detective’s preoccupation with the idea that “it’s the falling snow that sets the killer off” jarred for me, as in the film’s flashbacks to the killer’s childhood; there is no falling snow during the event we’re told led to his killings. It’s a small point, but it is bothersome.

There are several side-plots, all of which seemed like they could have been elaborated on much more. We see flashback to the investigation by a senior detective, played by Val Kilmer, into similar murders in the past. The connection between the current and old cases is hazy, and again there is no explanation as to why the killer stopped for a number of years (or indeed if there a large number of murdered women that have never been found). There is also Bratt’s obsession with a rich businessman with potential links to the case, but this line also seems to go dead.

It’s a brooding film with all the right components of a brilliant Scandinavian thriller, but I agree with other reviews in that the film seems to have something missing. But I still enjoyed it, and for the dramatic snowy shots of Norway and Fassbender’s strong performance, it’s still worth going to see.

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