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Film / The Snowman (2017)

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The Snowman is a 2017 crime horror thriller film directed by Tomas Alfredson. It is an adaptation of the Harry Hole novel of the same name by Jo Nesbø, and it stars Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, J. K. Simmons, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Val Kilmer.

When Detective Harry Hole (Fassbender) investigates the disappearance of a woman in the first snow of winter, he fears that a serial killer who has been unapprehended for similar past murders has returned. With the help of Katrine Bratt (Ferguson), Harry must connect the past cases to the present case and outwit the killer before the next snowfall.

The film was released on October 13, 2017 in the UK and on October 20 in the US.

Not to be confused with the heartwarming Graphic Novel The Snowman or its animated adaptation.

Previews: Trailer 1, International Trailer 1

The Snowman contains examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: Thanks to the film's Troubled Production, it's a complete toss-up which of the many subplots get any kind of resolution. Especially weird is the whole runner about the Winter Games, which doesn't even have the excuse of being something from the book.
  • Abusive Parents: The killer is shown to have a Dirty Cop for a father who had him out of wedlock and hid both the boy and his mother in an out-of-the-way farmhouse, periodically showing up to test the boy's intelligence and beating the mother if he answered questions incorrectly in front of him before raping her. He seemingly abandoned his son to an orphanage after the mother committed suicide and he was ready to abandon them both after she threatened to tell his wife about the whole thing.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Zig-zagged with the killer, a.k.a. Mathias. In the novel, he was mocked by other children for lacking nipples due to a genetic defect, and when he found out that his mother was having an affair with another man (who also lacked nipples) and that he was the child produced by said affair, he decided that he wanted to die and take his mother with him, but here, his mother committed suicide (leading him to believe that she abandoned him) and he gained an abusive father who hit and raped his mother, and later abandoned him after his mother died, as noted above.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Harry Hole is described as ugly in the novel, but is played by the handsome Michael Fassbender here.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • A mild case: unlike in the novel, Mathias didn't kill his mother, and actively tried to save her from drowning herself in a lake.
    • Katrine Bratt resorts to torturing Arve Støp at one point in the novel to try and get a confession out of him; this doesn't happen in the film.
  • Adaptational Job Change: Arve Støp was a magazine owner in the novel, but here he's a tycoon.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: While Gert Rafto is still a mess here, his abusive tendencies towards his wife and daughter are not mentioned.
  • Adaptational Ugliness: Arve Støp, Idar Vetlesen and Mathias are described as exceptionally handsome in the book, which they aren't in the movie (though in the last case it's a mild case and mostly because of Age Lift).
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • While Dr. Idar Vetlesen was hardly a saint in the novel, here he's running a prostitution ring and pimps out young women to Arve Støp.
    • Similarly, Arve Støp didn't get Vetlesen to pimp out young women to him in the novel. In the novel, he hired Vetlesen to treat his illegitimate children.
    • The killer, a.k.a. Mathias' father is an Abusive Parent who rapes Mathias' mother here, which he wasn't in the novel.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Here, Harry doesn't display much of the drive and the reasoning skills that he had in the novel, with Katrine Bratt displaying more of these qualities, making his talent come off as an Informed Attribute. There's also the fact that he's unable to control his alcoholism here, while he had a fair degree of control of his alcoholism in the novel.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole:
    • In the novel, Mathias' mother willingly had an affair with his real father and he found out while standing atop a snowman to peek into their bedroom, which led him to believe that women who had affairs with other men were cold-hearted, much like snowmen, explaining his reasoning for building snowmen. Here, since his father was abusive toward both his mother and himself and his mother committed suicide rather than him killing her himself, his reasoning for building snowmen to mark the locations of his murders doesn't make any sense.
    • Also, in the novel, the killer is dying from the genetic disease inherited from his biological father and used to be bullied because of a physical deformity associated with said disease, in addition to seeing his (step) father unhappy in his marriage to his mother, so the Snowman's choice of victims — married women who cuckolded their husbands — actually makes sense there. In the movie, he is shown to target one cuckolding woman, one divorcee, one cheater and one woman who's had an abortion - when his mother was neither, she was The Mistress. Also, in the film it's mentioned that he resented her for "abandoning" him by committing suicide (in the novel he killed her himself), so his crusade which creates the Missing Mom situation for children of the victims (if they have children at all, as Sylvia Ottersen doesn't in the movie) seems fueled more on Insane Troll Logic than anything else.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Jonas Becker from the novel became Josephine Becker in the film.
  • Adaptation Personality Change: A mild case. In the novel, the killer's letters came off as being written by a madman, but in the film, they come off as being written by a child, particularly with the infamous snowman drawing.
  • Adapted Out:
    • Mathias' stepfather (unbeknownst to said father) is absent from the film.
    • Sylvia Ottersen and Arve Støp's twin children don't appear here.
  • Anachronic Order: The film jumps back between the present day and the past in flashbacks seemingly at random, with no significant change (aside from the presence of Gert Rafto in the flashbacks) to distinguish them.
  • Anachronism Stew: A rather bizarre case of this occurs with the (fictional) EviSync devices, which are tablet PCs that look like they came from the early 2000s, but several scenes show iPhones and modern computers being used, indicating that the film occurs in the present day. What makes this even more bizarre is that the EviSync device wasn't in the novel, and the novel was released in 2007, before smartphones truly became popular.
  • Ax-Crazy: Harry says that the killer is completely insane; he's right.
  • Behind the Black: Harry is somehow unable to see Mathias approaching him from behind (off to the right screen) when he's looking around while they're both on the surface of a frozen lake, with very little fog around.
  • Borrowed Biometric Bypass: The killer chops off Katrine Bratt's index finger to gain access to the fingerprint-protected police database.
  • Calling Card: The killer leaves behind a snowman at the scenes of his crimes.
  • Chekhov's Lecture: Early on, we see the police staff getting an introduction to the new database with fingerprint security. This information comes back at the end when the killer uses a Borrowed Biometric Bypass to get into the system.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Arve Støp is a successful Norwegian tycoon who is campaigning for Oslo to hold the World Cup. He also screwed one of his old business partners out of their company, had an affair with the guy's wife, and is a serial womanizer who lets an abortionist colleague pimp out young women to him.
  • Covers Always Lie: Applies to movie posters too: Specifically the poster with the message, "Mister Police. You could have saved her. I gave you all the clues." This leads you to expect the killer is playing Criminal Mind Games by deliberately leaving clues to their next victim, but nothing of the sort happens in the movie.
  • Criminal Mind Games: Harry declares that the killer is playing games with them.
  • Darker and Edgier: The film overall is much more serious than its source material, which contained a great deal of Black Comedy.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • Katrine Bratt survives the novel but is murdered in the movie.
    • The killer also isn't killed in the book, which is a plot point as he was Secretly Dying and wanted to be killed. He also plays a small role in the next book.
  • Defective Detective:
    • Harry lives alone in a mouldy apartment and is an alcoholic whose boss has to cover for him because he keeps failing to show up for work due to his drinking problems, which gets so bad that he falls asleep in bus shelters and even on the street. He also attempts to have a fatherly relationship with the son of his old girlfriend but keeps failing to spend time with him like he promises.
    • Gert Rafto, who worked the case several years earlier and is the father of Katrine, is shown to be an even more defective detective than Harry is, actually managing to get himself suspended, being mocked by the rest of his office, and is so much of a mess that his murder is written off as a suicide when the killer blew his head off with a shotgun.
  • Demoted to Extra: Arve Støp and Idar Vetlesen, who were fairly prominent secondary characters (and even suspects) in the novel, are not as prominent in the film.
  • Dies Wide Open: One of the victims was killed with her eyes still open, and her decapitated head is placed on top of a snowman.
  • Evil All Along: Mathias; Arve Støp is less evil, but is introduced as less shady than he really is.
  • Foreshadowing: There is a clue to the killer's identity early in the film. The first time we see Matthias, he is wearing an apron with a pattern of fish on it that matches the fish hanging in Josephine Becker's room.
  • Friend to All Children: Harry gets along well with kids, as seen when he speaks to the daughter of one of the victims.
  • Frame-Up: The killer pulls off two, though ironically the first was an accident as the body was not discovered until after the killer's Calling Card had melted away and the local police were just incompetent.
  • Gender Flip: Jonas Becker is a girl here, and is named Josephine.
  • Idiot Ball: Two pretty bad cases occur in the climax:
  • Informed Flaw: Harry is an alcoholic but doesn't seem to struggle with withdrawal or any other issues as a result and he's still in excellent shape despite it. This could be due to how he had a fair amount of control of his alcoholism in the novel and the film failing to account for the change.
  • It's Personal: Declared verbatim by Harry when it appears that the killer has taken Katrine and left a note saying "I'm doing this for you Harry". It's eventually shown that the killer is Mathias, the current boyfriend of his old girlfriend Rakel, and Harry already knows him, and in the end he threatens her and her son by another man.
  • Leitmotif: The song "Popcorn" by the group Hot Buttered is playing every time the killer is at another murder scene, either before a murder or during the setup.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Much like his father, who asked him questions and beat his mother if he got the answers wrong, Mathias asks Harry several questions about his victims and draws the cutting loop closer to Rakel's neck every time Harry gives an answer he thinks is incorrect.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate:
    • One of the people investigated is a shady abortionist who seemingly pimps out some of his more vulnerable clients.
    • By contrast, Harry's love rival Mathias is a decent but dull plastic surgeon who covers for him and gives him pills to help him sleep. He's played straight as another example when it turns out that he's the killer and was using his medical skills and tools to mutilate the victims.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Mathias' father's name is Jonas in the film, whereas he was unnamed in the novel.
  • Off with His Head!: One victim is found with her head missing and it's later shown he put it on a snowman, and another has had their head replaced with a snowman's head though it melted before the body was found. Two of the victims had their heads blown off by a shotgun in kills made to look like suicides. Near the end, he nearly does this to Rakel as well before Harry stops him.
  • Ominously Open Door: Harry gets suspicious when he finds the door to his apartment slightly ajar. However, it turns out to be an unannounced inspection by a craftsman.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: This appears to be Harry's opinion of the killer. This is best seen when he points out to Katrine - in the Trailer, although not in the film itself - that the killer's MO (building snowmen, cutting things into little pieces) are what a child does to establish order, and this is further supported by the killer's own notes, which are very childlike:
    "Mister Police, come and look at the snowman I made you."
    • This is eventually revealed to be true as Mathias, the killer, is psychotically preoccupied with mothers he sees as irresponsible because his own mother killed herself and he saw this as her abandoning him.
  • Revisiting the Cold Case: A case from several years back is revisited.
  • Scenery Porn: There are quite a few shots of the breathtakingly-beautiful snow-filled Norwegian landscape throughout the film.
  • Sequel Hook: The film ends with Harry taking on another case. However, it's unlikely that there will be a sequel due to the film's critical and financial failure.
  • Snow Means Death: The killer kills his victims in the first snow of winter.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Apparently, Mathias' mother is so distraught when the abusive rapist married man she was having an affair with left her that she decided to commit suicide.
  • Trapped in a Sinking Car: Invoked by Mathias' mother when she commits suicide. Consequently, there is no struggle when her car starts sinking into the lake.
  • Unexplained Accent: Arve Støp is a Norwegian tycoon; however, J. K. Simmons uses an English accent for some reason.
  • Unrelated in the Adaptation: In the novel, Jonas Becker's father is Arve Støp, but in the film, Josephine Becker's father's identity is unknown.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Arve Støp is seemingly a benevolent philanthropist but is really a womanizing asshole who engages in ruthless business practices.

Barely barely grieving
Keep the front door open...