Gory, Contemplative, Above All Watchable Snowman

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - Exclusive to Fortune

Critics hate The Snowman. The performances of Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson were singled out for praise, but the movie has been panned left and right. The mainstream cinema academia felt it did not tell the story correctly. Not Christian Tesfaye though, who sees a promising actor-director relationship in the making. He dares to award 7 out of 10 stars.

The good thing about movies is that there is no common denominator. Not really. Sure, some films have tried desperately to be all accommodating, which is why we have the likes of Titanic or most family movies. But no movie, down from a Kevin Hart flick all the way to Citizen Kane, has ever been loved or hated across the board. There is always that one odd audience who claims to admire the former and dislike the latter.

I am going to do that this week – swim against the tide. The Snowman is a film that is currently screening at Matti Multiplex. On review aggregator sites such as Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, it has a rating of 9pc and 24pc, respectively, by the time this paper went to print. Under any circumstances, these are dire warnings for the populace to skip the film.

But I am glad I did not. Ordinarily, I trust these sites. Sometimes, of course, they miss the mark, with Spotlight being a prime example. It was a moderate movie that received overwhelming acclaim. However, their low ratings are spot on. This year’s appalling Transformers: The Last Knight, which had an aggregate score of 15pc on Rotten Tomatoes, is the perfect specimen.

The Snowman, adapted from a Swedish novel of the same name, is different. It is not perfect, but it is far better than the critics would have us believe. It has a rather engaging plot, great acting and a distinctive cinematography. It is not the type of movie we get to watch all the time; it is slow paced and builds up its story methodically.

Michael Fassbender plays Harry Hole, an alcoholic detective. He is unmarried and leads a lonely life with few attachments. One day, starved for a case to fill his sleepless nights with, he stumbles upon a missing person’s case with a recruit (Rebecca Ferguson).

But the case is more than a kidnapping, and a serial killer may be involved as has been documented by the late detective, Gert (Val Kilmer looking unlike Val Kilmer). Women vanish at the first snowfall, and all of the victims are single mothers whose children’s paternity is, at best, vague. The killer has a type, and as a signature, he places a snowman (and thus the film’s title) near every murder scene.

There are more players in the movie than the above three characters. There is Charlotte Gainsbourg, a Lars von Trier favourite, who plays Harry’s ex-girlfriend and a single mother herself. Her role, and that of Ferguson’s, help Harry become a well-rounded character the audience could care about.

But these characters are the most The Snowman affords its audience, an issue that may be behind some of the uproar over the movie. When it comes to drama, there may have been enough, but the film concludes without finishing some side plots.

Specifically, what is J.K. Simmons’ character? Does he exist just to divert our attention from the identity of the real killer? And what happened to the house painter?

Fortunately, I still found the movie engaging despite the somewhat anticlimactic ending. It is indicative of Thomas Alfredson’s, the director, style and mood.

Alfredson, the Swedish director, made a splash with his 2008 film, Let the Right One In. More than eight decades since F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, it was a vampire movie that still smelled  fresh. Starring two children who become friends – one a vampire and the other human – it is brutal, slow-paced, set in a snowy city and deliberates over characters that are in emotional turmoil, much like The Snowman. It is amazing that Alfredson’s father, Hans, was a comedian.

Winter is the perfect setting for the types of movies that Alfredson is most interested in. Its whiteness and the relative soundlessness of the cities represent acute loneliness. Much like a human being in the universe, his characters are often left to their devices, free to be evil, good or both. The moral spectrum for Alfredson is a knot, twisted on itself because even the righteous need – not only can – to err.

Fassbender is the perfect receptacle for Alfredson’s angst. There are few talented actors in Hollywood at the moment, and I cannot think of any who can play a grey character more accurately. Fassbender may have the classic blue eyes that have forever meant a goody-two-shoes in cinema signage, but his smile betrays something much more sinister. Much could come out of this actor-director collaboration.

The Snowman follows after last week’s Blade Runner 2049, another mystery movie. Both are bleak and have an underlining dark sense of humour. But they end on a positive note. They are the cinematic equivalent of the Ethiopian saying that it always gets dark before it becomes light again. I do not mind such themes, but they should come in moderation. Movies are a reflection of the human condition, the latter of which is rarely awarded the luxury of closure.

Published on Oct 27,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 913]



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