This is a difficult review to write. How can you assess, let alone describe, a film that isn't even a film?
"The Snowman," a ridiculous thriller (minus the thrills), is reportedly based on the bestselling novel by Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø. That could only be true if the book is stupefyingly dull and badly put together on every level from plotting to legible printing, with many pages left blank. I'm unsure what conceptual category fits its unwatchable screen adaptation. What classifies a stack of unrelated vignettes shuffled together at random? It appears to be the world's first Dadaist studio release, an excruciating abstraction of a movie in which absolutely nothing happens. The ideal soundtrack would be a compendium of record scratches.
The story — well, there isn't much of a story, just a collection of plot points with more twists than a pack of pretzels. It concerns a mysterious serial killer of women (and a few men) who strikes Norway after the first winter snowfall. This allows him to leave behind a calling card near each cadaver, a twig-armed pile of snowballs atop each other that looks vaguely humanoid.
In the hands of director Tomas Alfredson, who was capable with "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and impressive with "Let the Right One In," the movie reflects the Italian giallo slashers of the 1970s — lurid shockers with ruthlessly brutal masked killers fond of sharp objects, rope and black leather gloves. But where Alfredson's earlier films were impressively disturbing, "The Snowman" is, despite vivid scenes of gore, boredom incarnate. Entire scenes wander past with the nutritional content of sweat socks.
Michael Fassbender stars as Oslo police detective Harry Hole. To solve the case, Harry teams up with new colleague Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), who has become a detective on the force because she has issues of her own. For reasons difficult to justify, the killer has the pair in his own sights. That gives them something in common, which is valuable because there is no emotional connection between these shallow characters otherwise.
Remember how great Fassbender was in "12 Years a Slave," "Inglourious Basterds" and "Shame"? Well, if you do, be sure never to watch this, because it will tarnish those memories forever. In Harry's introductory shot, his unconscious hand releases the neck of a liquor bottle that clatters to the floor, so you know he's got issues. Other than his addiction, his heavy smoking habit and the shabby, never-changing clothes he wears, he's almost entirely anonymous.
Harry drinks in part because he's bored with work. The police chief tells Harry, "I apologize for Oslo's low murder rate," which sets the tone for the shallow moments of irony to come. Fassbender's reaction is his stiff Gloomy Face™, which we see constantly.
At least that's consistent. That's a blessing withheld from the supporting cast, who appear in side roles that seem promising but vanish from the exceedingly incoherent proceedings without explanation. Legendary J.K. Simmons plays a plutocrat industrialist with a creepy habit of photographing beautiful women against their will. The estimable Toby Jones pops by as a minor cop who knows a fact or two. Powerhouse actress Chloë Sevigny does double duty as twins who do and don't escape the villain's high-tech head-lopping power tools. Oddest of all is an aged, almost unrecognizable Val Kilmer as a barking mad police veteran whose minor patches of dialogue were obviously dubbed after the shoot. None of them does well-used work here and none seems to care.
"The Snowman" is clearly meant to be macabre, but somehow it just comes off as sad. Except for the obligatory final showdown with the twist villain, which is unintentionally laughable.
Rather than watching this film, I'd like to see a documentary on what went wrong behind the scenes. Executive producer Martin Scorsese was originally rumored to direct and as the production deadlines approached, Alfredson was hastily recruited instead. He has taken his own story of the train wreck production to the Norwegian press, saying that a rushed shooting schedule cut the screenplay by 15 percent, leaving crucial pieces of the jigsaw puzzle out of the movie. Scorsese's Oscar-winning longtime editor and creative muse Thelma Schoonmaker was brought in to supervise repairs, but the surgical staff at Mayo Clinic couldn't save this DOA disappointment.
The real shocker in "The Snowman" is that it was released. It hasn't got a snowball's chance.