BACK in 2008, Michael Fassbender made his breakthrough in Hunger and Swedish director Tomas Alfredson gave Scandinavian horror a name for itself with his vampire parable Let the Right One In.
Following on in 2011, Fassbender confirmed his status as one of the most talented young actors around with his performance as a sex addict in Shame,whilst Alfredson surpassed himself with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
It seemed inevitable these two would collaborate and indeed that has happened with The Snowman, a serial killer thriller set in snowy Oslo based on the novel by Jo Nesbo. An intriguing storyline, but one that frustratingly feels a letdown especially given the talent involved.
Detective Harry Hole (Fassbender) is an alcoholic mess, unable to fulfil his potential as a surrogate father to the son of his ex-partner (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Blaming a lack of cases to work on, his unauthorised absence is covered by a colleague who insists on keeping up with a bereavement story.
On his return, he discovers a letter from an unknown figure who taunts Detective Hole with a letter cryptically emphasising a sinister event marked with a symbol of a sketched snowman.
Shortly afterwards, a woman disappears and Hole is soon paired up with a feisty no-nonsense cop (Rebecca Ferguson). But as more murders occur in increasingly horrific ways, the mystery only deepens, with a bid to bring the Winter Olympics to Oslo possibly being connected.
Looking at the talent assembled and its status as part of the popular Nordic noir, this looks like an appealing piece of entertainment.
But what is the end result is a victim of its status as a film, rather than as a television series this would have benefitted from, something another Nesbo adaptation Headhunters would have bettered as.
Instead of seeing the merit of being a six-hour adaptation in Norweigan language that could prop up on BBC Four on a Saturday evening, the choice to make a two-hour film in English language with a likely increased budget has unfortunately proven to be its downfall.
For a start, there are too many characters and too many really talented actors who are really wasted in roles too small and lacking enough depth for their talent suggests.
A largely British cast involves the likes of Toby Jones as an underwritten detective and Line of Duty’s Adrian Dunbar makes an appearance as a suspicious husband, alongside J.K. Simmons as a shady organizer of the Olympics bid who at least impresses with his accent disguising his American.
Fassbender acts committed to the role but is not given enough direction or material to make him stand out as a wholly memorable character. In fact, if this is an attempt to launch a franchise revolving around Fassbender’s interpretation of Harry Hole, this is not an ideal start if the writing of the character is to go by.
As the grisly imagery of mutilation and decapitations gradually roll out, necessary but possibly done more for shock value, the mystery of the killer doesn’t stand as wholly gripping, not helped by the lack of distinct characterisation.
It starts off interesting with a prologue which involves a woman allowing herself to drown inside a car with a curious look on her face whilst her son escapes and watches in horror as the car sinks into the icy water.
The ability to convey a chilling detail is apparent early on as a victim is stalked, notably when she is hit from behind with a snowball which she dismisses as a prank. On first appearances, this seems like something that may not stand out brilliantly but could be something to engage with, particularly with those who enjoy these dark thrillers of Scandinavian heritage, TV or film.
However, that is where the film peaks in terms of suspense and as the film progresses, the mystery dwindles and once the culprit is revealed, the reaction is pretty much a blank. It goes from being a thriller with potential to a standard piece where not even the sights of the snowy landscape can make up for its lack of thrills.
It is not a bad film and the element of who will be left alive by the end keeps a sense of investment but only by a modest amount. It tries to put too much in the film and whatever subplots are involved appear too limited which proves to be a fatal flaw at times.
There is enough aspects, such as the prologue and the recurrent investiture in the film’s climactic act to stop the film from being yawn-inducing but as a thriller of this type, there are better and The Snowman will go down as a film that tried to be but couldn’t quite get there.