Thursday, November 16, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: The Snowman

Once again I'm woefully behind on my movie reviews, so I'm doing my best to catch up.

At long, long last, it's FINALLY here! The most eagerly anticipated, best reviewed and highest grossing movie of the Fall season! Prepare yourself, comic book fans, for the most visually spectacular action comedy of the decade! It's...

... Oh. It's The Snowman.

(Cue falling slide whistle)

The Snowman was written by Peter Staughan, Hossein Amini and Soren Svelstrup. Yep, that's right— somehow it took a whopping three people to write a screenplay that feels like it was run through Google Translate a couple dozen times. It was directed by Tomas Alfredson.

Straughan previously wrote Sixty Six, Mrs. Ratcliffe's Revolution, How To Lose Friends & Alienate People, The Men Who Stare At Goats, The Debt, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Frank and Our Brand Is Crisis.

Amini previously wrote Jude, The Wings Of The Dove, The Four Feathers, Killshot, Shanghai, Drive, Snow White And The Hunstman, 47 Ronin, The Two Faces Of January and Our Kind Of Traitor

Svelstrup has written extensively for various TV series such as The Killing. He also wrote the theatrical film The Day Will Come.

Alfredson is a Swedish writer, actor and director. He previously directed Bert: The Last Virgin, Kontorstid, Four Shades Of Brown, Let The Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

As you can see, this isn't some collection of amateurs or hacks. They're quite a talented team, who've written and directed some decent films in the past. Hell, Martin Scorsese even produced the film. Martin Freakin' Scorsese! So what the f*ck happened here? 

The Snowman should have been a taut, compelling and disturbing police procedural along the lines of Seven or The Silence Of The Lambs. Instead it's a muddled and bewildering mess of a murder mystery. It's filled with forgettable characters, incomprehensible editing and an impenetrable plot. Worst of all, it's just plain deadly dull.

It's almost fascinating to see how a major motion picture can go so wrong in every measurable sense.

The film's based on the 2007 book of the same name by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo. Oddly enough, The Snowman is actually the seventh book in a series, which details the adventures of police detective Harry Hole, who operates out of Oslo.

Why the filmmakers chose to start with the seventh book instead of the first, I have absolutely no idea. Based on the box office results and the way this film turned out, I wouldn't count on seeing the further cinematic adventures of Harry Hole.

You don't have to be a film scholar to realize there's something very, very wrong with The Snowman. Characters appear and disappear from the film with no explanation. Subplots are introduced, and go absolutely nowhere as they have zero effect on the plot. The plot lurches from one setpiece to the next with no connecting scenes in between. There's no cat-and-mouse games between the killer and the police. Main character Harry Hole makes incredibly intuitive deductions seemingly without examining any clues. Worst of all, the killer's identity is a huge letdown, as it makes little sense and is revealed in the least interesting way possible. 

It's like entire swathes of the film are missing. This isn't just my imagination, either. In an interview with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, director Tomas Alfredson said the reason The Snowman seems so choppy is because ten to fifteen percent of the screenplay was never filmed! 

According to Alfredson, "Our shoot time in Norway was way too short, we didn’t get the whole story with us and when we started cutting we discovered that a lot was missing. It’s like when you’re making a big jigsaw puzzle and a few pieces are missing so you don’t see the whole picture."

Alfredson said this lack of scenes made it necessary to try and plug the story holes in editing. Sorry Tomas, but it didn't work. Your movie makes no goddamned sense and is a steaming pile of deadly dull crap.

Hell, even the actors seem bored with the film. They slowly shuffle through the film as if they've all been drugged, or there was possibly a gas leak on the set. Even Michael Fassbender seems disinterested in his own starring vehicle. He plays the part of jaded detective Harry Hole as if he's constantly on the verge of falling asleep. Apparently Fassbender mistook the phrase "world weary" for "comatose," and acted the part accordingly.

I honestly don't know if words can describe just how bored I was during this movie. Ordinarily I despise people who diddle with their phones in the theater. While watching The Snowman though, it was all I could do to stop myself from playing a game on my own phone, rules be damned. 

So far The Snowman is a huge box office flop, as it's only managed to gross a paltry $6.6 million here in the States, against its $35 million budget. Yikes! It's done a bit better overseas, where it's made $29 million, for a worldwide total of just $36 million. That pretty much guarantees this will be the one and only cinematic outing for Harry Hole.


The Plot:
Sigh... this isn't gonna be a very comprehensive plot summary, because this film's so muddled and convoluted that I'm honestly not sure what the hell happened in it.

We begin in a remote cabin somewhere in Norway, where a Mother lives with her teenage Son. The local Sheriff arrives, bringing the two much needed supplies. He stays for dinner, and gets into a fight with the Mother. The Mother angrily threatens to tell everyone that the Sheriff is secretly her Son's father. He says if she does, that's the end of all his free food and help. He leaves in a huff.

The Mother becomes despondent, and one day she and her Son go for drive. Suddenly she veers off the road and drives out onto a frozen lake. The Boy hears the ice start to crack, and jumps out of their SUV. He tries to get his Mother to exit as well, but she locks the doors and sits motionless in the in car. 

The ice cracks and the SUV sinks. The distraught Son runs home, and for some reason builds a misshapen snowman. We realize we've just witnessed the origin of the Norway's very first serial killer.

Cut to present day Oslo, Norway. A Mrs. Becker leaves work, and as she gets in her car, she has the uneasy feeling she's being watched. She's then unknowingly followed home by a strange car. She comes home and is greeted by her loving young daughter. Her husband enters the room and angrily asks why she's so late. They argue for a while and he walks out.

Later that night the woman hears a noise outside. She goes outside to investigate and is abducted by the person who followed her. The only clue is a misshapen snowman in the front yard.

We're then introduced to our main character, Harry Hole (hee hee!), a detective for Norway's "Crime Squad," which sounds like a fake police organization you'd see in a comedy film. As we join Hole (who's played by a very disinterested Michael Fassbender), he's busy sleeping off a bender inside a children's playhouse in a park. He staggers into work, where he's confronted by his Boss (everyone has difficult to remember Norwegian names, so I'm not even gonna try), who's upset that his drinking is causing him to miss work. He gives Hole the Becker case, hoping it'll distract him from drinking.

The Boss also saddles Hole with a new partner— a bright young rookie named Katrine Bratt. Hole's mortified, but drags her along on his investigation. They question Mr. Becker, who's a suspect in the disappearance of his wife, but his motive checks out. Hole also speaks with the Becker's daughter, who opens up to him, as the movie tries to convince us he's not a bad guy after all. 

Hole visits his ex-girlfriend Rakel Fauke, and confides in her. Rakel's dating a man named Gunnar Hagen (I think?), a prominent physician or psychiatrist or something. Gunnar seems suspicious of Hole, but Rakel assures him there's nothing going on between them. When Hole mentions he can't sleep, Gunnar prescribes him some pills to help (PLOT POINT!). 

Just then The Snowman strikes again. Hole and Katrine investigate, and find a woman's head perched atop a misshapen snowman. 

We're then introduced to a host of suspect, including Arve Stop, a wealthy businessman who's trying to bring the Olympic Games to Oslo, and a Creepy Doctor who... does something I can't remember. Hole and Katrine waste a lot of screen time investigating them, but determine neither is The Snowman.

There's a whole subplot involving Rakel's rebellious teen son Oleg, and Hole's attempts to bond with him. Basically Hole promises to accompany Oleg on a school trip, then gets blackout drunk and forgets. It doesn't affect the plot in any way, so don't worry about it. 

There's also a couple of bizarre and inexplicable sequences involving a detective named Gert Rafto, who's played by a ghastly looking Val Kilmer. Apparently these scenes are flashbacks? I'm honestly not quite sure. I think it's also revealed that Rafto is somehow Katrine's father, but again, I just don't know.

Hole and Katrine do some more boring investigating, eliminating suspects in the dullest, most routine way possible. Near the end of the film, Hole tries to contact Rakel for some reason. When he can't find her or Oleg anywhere, he becomes suspicious. He thinks back to a few days earlier when Rakel's boyfriend Gunnar prescribed medicine to him, and somehow comes to the conclusion that he's The Snowman.

Hole races to the remote cabin we saw at the beginning of the movie. He sneaks inside and sees Gunnar has Rakel and Oleg tied up, and is preparing to kill them. Yep, that's right— the Sheriff's Son from the prologue grew up to become Gunnar, who's really The Snowman. Um... that's shocking, I guess?

Apparently after his mother killed herself, Gunnar was forced into an orphanage, where he lost his mind. He became a doctor, and now targets young married women who have children from a previous relationship. What a bizarrely specific fetish! 

Hole tries to save Rakel from being dismembered, but Gunnar easily knocks him across the room. Hole struggles to his feet and the two grapple for several minutes. Eventually their fight takes them out onto the ice, where— you guessed it— Gunnar falls through and freezes to death. How... ironic, I suppose.

Afterward Hole tells Katrine she'll make a good detective someday or something. I'd long stopped paying attention by that point.

• I really don't have a lot of thoughts about this "film," so I'm not gonna spend a lot of time deconstructing it.

• Wow, who knew that everyone in Norway speaks English with a British accent?

This is an old, old Hollywood technique that's been used in thousands of films over the years. It's supposed to indicate to the audience that the characters are all speaking in their native tongue, without the need for subtitles. 

They did this a lot in old school Biblical epics like Ben Hur and The Greatest Story Ever Told. Instead of forcing all the actors to learn Aramaic or Hebrew, they just had 'em speak with British accents. That way the audience subliminally realizes the characters are speaking differently, and don't have to read two hours of subtitles. Problem solved!

• At the beginning of the movie, the Mother drives onto a frozen lake and sits in her SUV as it slowly sinks into the ice. Her Son frantically bangs on the window, trying to save her. Somehow the car crashes through the ice while he doesn't.

Nope! The kid was standing less than a foot away from the car when it sank! The only possible way this could have happened is if the car created a perfect SUV-shaped hole in the ice, like in a cartoon.

• Since The Snowman was first announced, I've been giggling at the name of main character "Harry Hole." Who the hell thought that was a good idea for their hero's name?

Actually it's not as bad as it sounds. In Norway (where the film's set) the name "Hole" is pronounced as "Hoo-leh." That's fine and all for Norwegian speakers, but doesn't much help the rest of the world. Maybe author Jo Nesbo should have picked a less... provocative name. 

• Because movies are a visual medium, they're supposed to show, not tell. Apparently none of the three screenwriters of The Snowman are familiar with this rule. 

We're told over and over that Harry Hole is the Crime Squad's greatest detective, and possesses a brilliant deductive mind. Unfortunately we never actually see any evidence of this, as he spends the movie in an alcoholic stupor, occasionally blundering into an obvious clue.

Same goes for his partner Katrine Bratt. Hole's boss pairs him with her, explaining that she's an up and coming young go-getter with a nose for crime-solving. Again, we never actually see any proof of this.

• The Snowman Killer sends a note to Harry Hole, which reads, "Mister Police. You could have saved her. I gave you all the clues." 

Naturally this made me think the murderer would operate similarly to Jack The Ripper or the Zodiac Killer, playing "catch me if you can" by sending taunting notes to the police. Nope! The killer sends exactly one note to Hole, and that's it! And even then, the one and only note didn't include any actual clues! Jesus, they couldn't even get that right!

• The movie's killer leaves his trademark at the scene of all his crimes— a small snowman. Apparently he never learned how to make a proper one as a child. Instead of the traditional three sphere physique (head, middle and bottom), he consistently makes snowmen with only two parts, that look not unlike BB-8.

• The film introduces a series of suspects, then matter-of-factly eliminates them from suspicion until there's literally only one left. There's no real mystery, and it doesn't take any deductive skills on the part of the audience to figure out who's the killer, as the film pretty much just says, "Yup, it's this guy."

• Usually when I'm bored with a film I can amuse myself by admiring the cinematography or staring at the scenery. Jesus, I couldn't even do that in this dismal film! The Snowman's set in the dreary, brutal and desolate landscape of Oslo, where, if this film's to be believed, no colors except black, white and grey exist. Somehow I doubt this movie's going to do much for Norway's vacation industry.

The Snowman is a dull, dismal and joyless murder mystery filled with unlikable characters, choppy editing and an incomprehensible plot. Worst of all, it's just plain dull. It was written and directed by a talented group of folks who've done good work in the past, which makes their failure here all the more puzzling. What should have been a tense psychological thriller like Seven ended up being a deadly dull snooze fest. Do yourself a favor and give it a miss. I hated it so much I'm giving it a well deserved D+.

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