The Snowman boasts an amazing cast, a solid director, and popular source material. By all accounts, the film should at least provide two hours of distraction. Unfortunately, the movie is far less than the sum of its parts. It's disjointed and incomplete and leaves the viewer filled with confusion, rather than tension.
The unfortunately named Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) is a police detective in Oslo, Norway. He was once one of the best in the country, but more recently he's given in to the bottle. Looking for something to keep his mind off drinking, he inserts himself into a missing person case being handled by newcomer Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson). She believes this disappearance is connected to several others that have been going for years. When Harry draws a connection between the snowmen that have been constructed near the victims' last known locations, and a taunting note he received in the mail, Harry begins to investigate what appears to be the work of a serial killer.
Even that brief summary feels loose and more complicated than it needs to be, but therein lies the major issue with The Snowman. The film feels less like a cohesive narrative than it does a collection of scenes that were thrown together in vaguely the correct order. It's as if the screenwriters compiled all the key scenes from the original Jo Nesbø novel, wrote them first, and when they discovered they already had two hours of material, went home. This results in some of the most uneven storytelling for a feature film in recent memory. The film sets up several questions without ever giving us answers. We're told that police academy students study Harry Hole's old cases, but we never see an example from Harry as to why they would. Why did Harry become a drunk? Why did the script make Harry a drunk since it doesn't impact the story in any way? Why are there flashbacks, featuring Val Kilmer as a second drunk cop, when those scenes ultimately go nowhere? Why is Val Kilmer's voice dubbed in some of the worst dialogue looping in the history of cinema? All these questions go unanswered.
While the story is a nightmare, the movie might have been salvaged by a great performance or two. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen either. We've seen Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson do great work. Charlotte Gainsbourg and J.K. Simmons, provide additional supporting performances as well, but every performance in this movie is uniformly flat. The result is an utter lack of tension from start to finish. Why should the audience care about what's going on if it doesn't look like anybody on screen does? Fassbender's lifeless performance here makes his Assassin's Creed role look frenetic by comparison. It's as if everybody involved in The Snowman knew from the start that this wasn't going to work, and agreed to put forth the minimum effort required to get it over with so they could go home.
And then there's the "mystery." I'm forced to put it in quotes because you'll almost certainly figure it out before the final reveal. Not because the film lays out the clues in any particularly noteworthy way. It doesn't. The clues barely exist at all. In the end, it turns out everything was built upon plot contrivance and convenience. You'll figure out who the killer is based solely on the fact that they're the only character left by the end who it could be.
Director Tomas Alfredson has already come out to say that filming of The Snowman was rushed and that a significant portion of the script was never filmed, but that's a reason, that's not an excuse. If this was truly the best that could be done under the circumstances, then maybe this simply wasn't worth making at all.