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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

Oslo homicide detective Harry Hole has seen better days.

On this one, he coughs himself awake, his breath crystalizing in the wintry air, as he sits on a wooden bench in a small shack on a playground. The bottle of booze he'd apparently been nursing drops to the ground, further startling him into consciousness.

Once upon a time, many years ago, Harry had been something of a detective legend in the Scandinavian city, with police textbooks using his work as case studies in how to track killers. But the murderers have been laying low in Oslo lately. And Harry? Mostly he just drinks. And smokes. And drinks some more. And passes out wherever he might be.

Between stupors, Harry wanders into the police department and meets a new detective, Katrine Bratt, who's soon called out on a missing person case. It seems one Birte Becker, a young wife and mother, has gone missing. Harry—with nothing else to do—goes along for the ride.

He's convinced the woman has run off with an illicit lover. Until, that is, her head shows up … disconnected from her body.

Suddenly, Harry's got work to do.

And, oddly, he starts getting letters in the mail from the person who apparently perpetrated the crime—a person who signs his letters with a snowman and leaves a creepy snowman at the scene of the crime to boot.

Soon, there's another murder. Then another.

The only clues are that each woman either was a mother (or had been recently pregnant), and that each had children of questionable patrimony. And they all died while it was snowing. (Which, apparently, is every day in ever-so-dreary Oslo.)

And as Harry and Katrine race to decipher the disparate clues in the case, the vicious killer always seems to be one bloody, snowy step in front of them.

Positive Elements

The drunken detective with a heart of gold is one of those movie archetypes that never seems to lose its storytelling appeal, for some reason. Harry—like most similar characters in other movies—is a mix of addiction-addled inebriation and savant-like ability to spot clues that everyone else misses. And so it is here: He simply sees things that his erstwhile partner, Katrine, misses. And even though he doesn't always make the best choices, some part of him deep down still cares about a few things.

He really does want to stop the serial killer who keeps doing really bad things to young mothers. Increasingly, he wants to protect Katrine (who, it turns out, has some secret motivations of her own for solving the case). And there remains a flicker of affection for his ex-girlfriend, Rakel, who still kind of fancies him, too.

Harry's honest at one point about how his addiction has undermined his ability to make a meaningful commitment to Rakel and to her teen son, Oleg, who sees Harry as the father he never had. (Rakel has, apparently, had a long string of partners, but nothing ever sticks very long). And Harry, despite frequently failing to make good on his commitments to Oleg, keeps trying.

Spiritual Content

None.

Sexual Content

A woman's dress is pulled down, briefly revealing a breast. A doctor essentially serves almost as a pimp, securing young women for a wealthy business tycoon's sensual appetites. (We see him taking pictures of two of them with his smartphone, including the bare-chested woman noted above.)

Rakel and Harry sort of reconnect. She's clearly interested in a physical encounter (she's shown on top of him), but he isn't. Another couple is heard having noisy sex. A young boy peeks through a window onto them. A woman dresses up provocatively to try to seduce someone. Harry's shown shirtless and in his underwear.

An odd, mildly disturbing montage near the beginning of the film pictures statues of people in Olso, all apparently nude, including one which seems to be a pile of naked babies.

[Spoiler Warning] Eventually, we learn that the killer is targeting women who have children but don't know who the father is. The killer grew up with a promiscuous mother who committed suicide, and he's somehow trying to deal with that trauma by brutally murdering women whom he apparently thinks are doing damage to their children by their sexual choices.

Violent Content

The movie's grim opening scenes show an older man repeatedly hitting a woman (who may or may not be related to him), with whom he then has sex (off camera). Shortly after that, she takes her tween son and intentionally drives onto a frozen lake, the car plunging beneath the ice as she commits suicide while her little boy yells for her to get out of the car.

The murderer has an unexplained penchant for decapitating and dismembering his victims. One woman is drugged, and we see that he uses a mechanized (and very fast and powerful) garrote to remove her limbs. (We don't directly witness the gruesome deed, but it's very clear what's happening.) Several women's heads are shown, cut off, thereafter, with detectives placing them in coolers. One victim's head is placed horrifically on a snowman. Another victim is essentially sectioned into pieces in the snow.

Two other characters lose fingers to the killer's garrote. One of those amputated digits is used to get into someone's computer. Another is nailed to a door.

Two male victims are killed by point-blank shotgun blasts to the head. We see one of them in gory, graphic detail. And we repeatedly see the headless remains of both men.

Two scenes pictures birds feasting on the dismembered corpses of people who've been murdered. A woman chops a chicken's head off with an axe (which we witness).

Another woman kicks a man, who then slams her to the ground and ends up on top of her to subdue her. Someone gets shot in the chest. Another person plunges through ice and perishes. There's a verbal reference to a woman having had an abortion. Someone's frozen corpse is left in a car.

Crude or Profane Language

Four f-words, six s-words. We hear three misuses of Jesus' name. "H---" is spoken three times, "d--mit" once and a crude slang term for the male anatomy once.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Characters drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes in many, if not most, scenes in this film. Harry, as mentioned, is an alcoholic who's unable to quit drinking but aware that his addiction is wrecking his life. Someone prescribes sleep medication for Harry, but he doesn't use it.

Before the killer finishes off each of his poor victims, he knocks them out with some kind of a drug from a small syringe.

Other Negative Elements

Harry repeatedly steals files from his partner, discovering in the process that she's working on a separate, deeply personal case of her own.

Conclusion

Though trailers for this film have tried to amp it up as a horror movie, The Snowman isn't that. Instead, it's a brutal, bloody whodunit set in perpetually frozen (in this movie, at least) Norway. The result feels like an R-rated version of CSI: Oslo.

Talk about a cold case.

A whole school of red herrings swim around an intricate plot that's exceedingly difficult to follow. At times, the film echoes another graphic Scandinavian offering, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Other times, it feels a bit like Seven (though we actually see victims' severed heads here).

Mostly, though, The Snowman is a dreary, gruesome slog with no real destination in mind as its story wanders hither and thither across Norway's snow-swept landscapes … often drenched in blood.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Michael Fassbender as Harry Hole; Rebecca Ferguson as Katrine Bratt; Charlotte Gainsbourg as Rakel; Jonas Karlsson as Mathias Lund-Helgesen; Michael Yates as Oleg; Ronan Vibert as Gunnar Hagen; J.K. Simmons as Arve Arve Støp; Val Kilmer as Gert Rafto; David Dencik as Idar Vetlesen; Toby Jones as DC Svensson; Genevieve O'Reilly as Birte Becker; James D'Arcy as Filip Becker; Jeté Laurence as Josephine Becker; Adrian Dunbar as Frederik Aasen; Chloë Sevigny as Sylvia Ottersen/Ane Pedersen

Director

Tomas Alfredson ( )

Distributor

Universal

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

October 20, 2017

On Video

January 16, 2018

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
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