To use a winter-based metaphor for The Snowman, it’s the slush after a few days of moderate snowfall on the side of a downtown Minneapolis street. It relies heavily upon over-played tropes that neither build suspense nor develop any characters. Calling it a thriller is laughable, although you may find yourself on the edge of your seat after two hours, eager for it to end.
The movie begins with a flashback to the titular serial killer’s childhood. Like the majority of movie and novel serial killers, he’s from a broken home, with a mother who can’t be bothered to take care of him. After she threatens to tell his biological father’s wife about their bastard child, the father runs out of the house and threatens to never return. A car chase ensues across icy Norwegian bridges and frozen lakes until the mother suddenly realizes that pursuit, and life itself, is worthless. The car drifts and skids across the ice and once it comes to a stop, the serial killer-to-be gets out. His mother, on the other hand, stays in the driver’s seat, staring blankly at her son as the ice cracks and she sinks into the icy depths. For the remainder of the movie, much of the audience will mirror that disinterested, catatonic gaze.
In the present day, protagonist Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) awakens on a park bench after a night of binge drinking. Whether or not his name is the reason for his chronic alcoholism is unclear, but as his addiction is never explained, the possibility can’t be ruled out. Bleary-eyed, and possibly still drunk, he opens a letter containing a clue from the Snowman serial killer, taunting him for his alcoholism and inability to stop future murders.
Supposedly, Harry is a great detective, with such a successful career that young cops study his cases in school. But throughout the movie, most of the detective work he does is to steal files from his new partner, Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson). It also takes him a frustratingly long amount of time to believe Bratt’s theory that murders dating back several years, all of which happen during a snowstorm and have a snowman outside the victims’ homes, could possibly be related. Perhaps some of his confusion is due to the fact that the small, shoddy snowmen look to be built by a young child.
By the time the storytelling speed picks up, it’s difficult to discern the plot from distracting side stories. This includes a truly strange series of flashbacks featuring another alcoholic cop, Rafto (Val Kilmer). More than anything, these vignettes could imply a necessity for Norwegian police officers to be drunk constantly or the screenwriter’s inability to write other characters.
When the climax rolls around, there’s no way that the audience could have followed any clues to determine the serial killer’s identity. Similarly, none of the characters have been developed, or made endearing enough, to cause any concern for their safety. Admittedly, The Snowman novel by Jo Nesbø could be fantastic. But this movie is a soggy mess.