The Snowman isn’t just bad.
“Bad” would imply an unoriginal screenplay or over-the-top performances. The Snowman is so bad it’s surreal, creating an experience that will feel more like a shared hallucination amongst theatergoers than an actual motion picture produced by a major studio. Poorly edited, underacted, and often incomprehensible, this is a disaster on just about every level, to the point where it is (almost) entertaining because of it.
Since the film is based on the novel by Jo Nesbø, it’s hard to truly blame the film’s three screenwriters for all the movie’s narrative mishaps. But one has to ask: has anyone involved in the film’s production actually met another human being? Not once in the film’s two-hour runtime does a single character act like a regular human being, with much of the film hinging on stupid decisions and plot twists that make no sense.
Even the persona of the serial killer is a confusing one. Does he leave snowmen at the scene of the crime? Does he use them as calling cards? Are the snowmen really even a part of his whole shtick? The movie never bothers to really develop his motivations or character traits, instead just filling the movie with silly, over-the-top violence and predictable revelations.
But The Snowman should not be judged for the things it does wrong. Instead, it should be judged for the moments that are truly flabbergasting and bizarre. Some of these are rather conventional scenes executed terribly. Take, for example, a sex scene between Michael Fassbender (playing the humorously named detective Harry Hole) and Charlotte Gainsbourg, who sleepwalks her way through a performance as Harry’s ex-girlfriend. The two remain fully clothed, as Fassbender remains perfectly still on his back and Gainsbourg squats over him looking unimpressed and sad, while also remaining perfectly still.
Neither actor seems remotely enthusiastic or interested in the scene, and it’s actually confusing as to whether or not they had sex or just decided to sit in an uncomfortable position for a few minutes. It’s one of many straightforward scenes that should not fall as flat as they do, but somehow lack any artistic merit.
Then there are the dumb subplots and various suspects, who are all so bizarre and poorly conceived. J.K. Simmons shows up with an ill-advised accent as a pervy businessman who adds nothing to the story but a boring subplot about Oslo trying to host the Winter Games.
Then, there’s a bizarre sequence in which the detectives get a call about a murdered chicken farmer, drive out to see her alive and well, leave, and then get a call literally five minutes later about her actual death. More bafflingly, Oscar nominee Chloe Sevigny plays both the chicken farmer and her twin sister, amount to making four minutes of screentime and 20 lines collectively.
There’s also a “high-tech” tablet that the detectives constantly talk about, even though it looks like an oversized laptop from the 90s and never actually does anything of importance for the story. And, the most bizarre plot thread: an entire character (Silvia Busuioc) who is connected to every major suspect and shows up, at random, throughout the movie during important scenes, but is never given any sort of motivation, explanation, or even a name.
This doesn’t even get into the technical aspects of the film, which includes poor dubbing and horrid editing. The opening and final sequences are virtually incomprehensible due to how poorly they’re cut, and many of the actors clearly re-recorded their dialogue after production only to have it spliced in at random, regardless of whether their mouths are in sync with their words. As a result, Val Kilmer gives one of the most laughable performances of the year, with his bizarre accent and fast-moving mouth making his entire character an unintentional source of comedy.
Then, of course, there are the thematic problems with the film, namely the way it tries to deliver a message about the evils of misogyny but takes away any power or agency from the women on-screen and instead frames it all as a portrait of a man’s pain.
There are some funny sequences in The Snowman. One sequence finds the characters labeling a suspicious death by shotgun as a suicide, even though it’s literally impossible for someone to shoot themselves with a shotgun from that angle. Another scene, meant to be heartbreaking suicide, is darkly comedic because of how terrible both actors are in it.
But, truly, The Snowman never reaches “so bad it’s good” levels of entertainment because of how consistently bizarre it is. There have been episodes of Law & Order: SVU with more polish and professionalism onscreen. The fact that this film’s ensemble consisted of multiple Oscar nominees and an Oscar winner is the most surprising thing about it.