Michael Fassbender stars in “The Snowman.” | UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Convoluted serial killer plot knocks down ‘The Snowman’

SHARE Convoluted serial killer plot knocks down ‘The Snowman’
SHARE Convoluted serial killer plot knocks down ‘The Snowman’

I don’t know how Harry Hole is pronounced in Norway, where the character was birthed by crime writer Jo Nesbo, but stateside that name is tragic. Even under the best of cinematic circumstances, it would be hard to root for a character whose name has you sniggering like a schoolkid every time it’s spoken.

It’s only the first in the staggering series of monumental miscalculations that is “The Snowman.” The dreary procedural wants to be a snowbound “Se7en,” with a moralizing serial killer enforcing his own code on a wayward world. But the plot is hopelessly convoluted, with more dead ends and dangling threads than a haunted house.

The film is replete with baffling missteps: awkward pauses and tortured exchanges, pained turns of phrase,abrupt cuts and haphazard editing, long shots that linger garishly on shotgun-blasted heads, a hodgepodge of accents that don’t mesh. “The Snowman” is like if aliens studied humanityand tried to make their own movie in an attempt to communicate with us. This simulacrum contains all the requisite pieces of a movie, but humanity got lost in translation.

We’re to believe that Hole (Michael Fassbender) is a brilliant detective, one whose alcoholic benders and days-long disappearances from work are waved off because he’s just that valuable, though we’re never shown any notable detective work.His personal life is a shambles because of his drinking, but his ex (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her teenage son still hold a candle for him despite the upstanding new man in their lives.

Hole’s vodka chugging gets interrupted by a string of seemingly related missing-person reports, brought to his attention by newcomer detective Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson). Gradually (oh so painfully gradually) they begin to piece together a portrait of a killerwho’s targeting mothers with some history of promiscuity. He’s killed before, they discover ina nine-year-old cold-case file pursued by another brilliant alcoholic detective (Val Kilmer). And the killer has a calling card: a snowman left behind at every scene. The snowmen are supposed to be menacing, but you can only take a threatening snowman aboutas seriously as the name “Harry Hole.”

The casting of Kilmer here, by the way, just feels cruel. Kilmer has been privately battling some form of oral or throat cancer (he’s been mum on the details but confirmed a cancer diagnosis in a Reddit AMA).Onscreen he’s frail and shambling, his face frozen in a grimace. For all his screen time he barely speaks — mostly he grunts and engages in staring contests — and his few paltry lines of dialogue are artlessly dubbed, an awkward workaround to accommodate the actor’s limitations. It’s so painful to watch, there’s a kind of meanness to it.

Kilmer deserves better, and so do we. Serial killers with mommy issues torturing “loose” or “bad” women is a tired trope, one that “The Snowman” doesn’t have the awareness to recognize or comment on. The film’s treatment of women in general is wanting. It takes a sudden sexist left turn about halfway through with a rapey scene between Hole and his partner that one imagines is supposed to read as sexyin spite of their total lack of chemistry. Hole is practically catatonic throughout the film, and yet his ex is desperate to grind on him, because broken and distant alcoholics are just that attractive.

What’s befuddling about the film’s staggering ineptitude is thatdirector Tomas Alfredson has proven himself a more-than-capable filmmaker in the past. His breakthrough film, “Let the Right One In” (2008) is a stone-cold modern horror classic, while his English-language debut “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (2011) got high marks for style. The director has been trying to get ahead of the inevitable backlash awaiting “The Snowman,” claiming in an interview with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation that the production was so rushed, he didn’t get to shoot 10 to 15 percent of the script.

But given the nearly two hours of footage that made it onscreen, it’s hard to see how the solution to “The Snowman” is more of “The Snowman.”

Barbara VanDenburgh, USA TODAY Network

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Tomas Alfredson and written by Matthew Carnahan, Soren Sveistrup, Peter Straughan and Hossein Amini, based on the book by Jo Nesbo. Rated R (for grisly images, violence, some language, sexuality and brief nudity). Running time: 119 minutes. Now showing at local theaters.

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