Director Tomas Alfredson (the original LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and SOLDIER, TAILER, TINKER SPY) makes sure the film’s Norwegian setting (though he is Swede) is known from the very start. From the wintry long windy roads of Norway, the film shifts focus to the statues in Vogel Park in Oslo, before the film reveals key locations of Oslo and Bergen (on the west coast). As snow is perpetually on the ground, it is assumed it is close to the winter months, which explains the reason the sun is seldom seen – making the film more eerie for its appropriate theme.
The film is a whodunit mystery based on a screenplay by Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan and Søren Sveistrup adapted from the novel The Snowman by Jo Nesbø. A serial killer is on the loose, leaving clues and a snowman whenever a grisly murder is committed. Harry Hol (Michael Fassbender), an elite crime squad’s lead detective, investigates the disappearance of a victim on the first snow of winter. He fears an elusive serial killer nicknamed “The Snowman” may be active again. With the help of a brilliant recruit, Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), the detective must connect decades-old cold cases to the brutal new one if he hopes to outwit this unthinkable evil before the next snowfall. Harry’s ex-wife, Rakel (French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg) who still loves him comes into the picture, complicating matters. She has re-married so that her son, Oleg (Michael Yates) would not have the alcoholic, chain-smoking Harry as a negative role model.
Alfredson’s film is full of flaws and Alfredson acknowledges this, blaming it on the short shooting schedule. Apparently the film was shot with the script uncompleted leading to problems with the editing. The film is tightly paced, and the story does make sense, though the flow is definitely disjointed which can be felt at times. One has to keep alert to remember who is who and the incidents that have occurred in the past and the present. Wherever possible, the suspense set-ups are well executed, the best segment being the death of a mother in the car that sinks into the ice in a half-frozen lake. But the identity of the snowman, who turns out to be someone close to Harry is a coincidence that stretches credibility.
Other problems involve the actors. Michael Fassbender, Toby Jones.J.K. Simmons and Val Kilmer are American and British actors looking totally out of place in a film totally set in Norway. The film would have been better cast with a full Norwegian or at least Scandinavian cast. The recent thriller (last year) IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE is a similar film that fared much better.
The film has impressive winter cinematography by Edward Lachman. I have been to Norway twice, as well as to Bergen and Oslo, and the film is a tribute to the country especially with the subplot of Oslo winning the Olympics Winter Games bid.
THE SNOWMAN opens with fierce competition this weekend. Fortunately, it has a modest $35 million production tag and its expected S10 million take this weekend should make the Universal studio bosses happy. Still, THE SNOWMAN is Alfredosn’s worst film – a sad deviation from a director who has seldom missed his mark.