Research reveals that Harry Hole (here portrayed by Michael Fassbender) is a brilliant and driven detective prone to using unorthodox methods in his work, a classic loose cannon in the police force. Hole is unmarried and he has few close friends. He frequently makes enemies among his colleagues who, nevertheless, grudgingly respect him. He is a chain smoker and heavy drinker, although for the most part has his reliance on alcohol under control. The effects of his problems however, sometimes bring him into repeated conflict with his superiors, and some colleagues. Hole is also one of just a handful in the force to have undertaken special interrogation techniques and firearms training with the FBI.
Our film opens up on a desolate snow covered mountain side dwelling. Up pulls a VW Golf Police car, and out steps an overweight getting on in years man who delivers two gas cylinder bottles to the house, stashes them away inside and then sits down at the dining table with the mother of the household and her young teenage son. It is presumed to be sometime in the early 80's. The man tests the young lad on notable dates in history, and when the boy falters or answers incorrectly the women gets a stern beating. One such wrong answer sends the mother crashing backwards off her chair and onto the floor. Next up the young lad is spying on the mother and the man through the bedroom window as they have sex. When the boy is seen, the man hurriedly gets up out of the bed, gets dressed, storms out of the house ranting as he does so and speeds off in his car. The mother and boy give chase in the car across the spartan snow covered landscape. At some point the mother releases her hands from the steering wheel and the car careers off the road onto a frozen lake. The boy is screaming at his mother but she doesn't hear, her gaze fixed firmly on the road ahead, emotionless. The boy pulls on the handbrake and the car skids to a halt. He gets out of the passenger side door hearing the ice crack beneath the vehicle. His mother sits motionless as the boys struggles to open the drivers side door to free his mother. But she doesn't want to be freed as the vehicle slowly sinks into the icy depths below and disappears.
We then cut to the present day and waking up from a drunken stupor in a park shelter is Detective Harry Hole of the Oslo Police. He has been absent without leave for the past week or so, and meanders into the office to check on his mail, and is greeted by his superior officer with a reminder of leave protocols, a quick slap on the wrist and told not to do it again. He then ventures outside to a smoking balcony where he meets new recruit Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Fergusson) who has been assigned to his office. They exchange social niceties and go their separate ways, only to meet up hours later when Hole sees Bratt leaving for the day and catches a ride. She is on her way to a reported missing persons case, and Hole tags along. Meanwhile, in Hole's stash of mail is a handwritten cryptic letter sent directly from a supposed killer with a picture of a snowman at the bottom of the page - its plays on Hole's mind momentarily, but then he seems to dismiss it.
The missing person in question is Birte Becker (Genevieve O'Reilly) a married mother of a six or seven year old daughter. The night before her disappearance we see her car being followed by another on the way home from work. She arrives and is greeted by the young child, but the waiting father Filip Becker (James D'Arcy) is angry at her being late and he storms out of the house with bags packed on his way to some important business meeting out of town, leaving mother and daughter alone in the house. The next morning, the child wakes up and mother is gone. No sign of her, and a neighbour alerted the Police who send Bratt along to investigate. Outside in the garden is a squat snowman, with twigs for arms and coffee beans for a wry smile, gazing up the house.
The next case of a missing person requires a drive out to some remote farmstead for a case of a missing Sylvia Ottersen (Chloe Sevigny), but when they arrive Sylvia Ottersen is alive and well and shrugs it off as a prank call form her jilted boyfriend. Hole and Bratt leave from whence they came, only to be alerted over the Police band radio that Sylvia Ottersen has been reported missing . . . two minutes ago! They hastily turn around and return to the farmstead to be greeted by Ane Pedersen (Chloe Sevigny), Sylvia's identical twin, only to find the decapitated corpse of Sylvia Ottersen on the ground in the chicken shed. At this point Hole and Bratt surmise that the Snowman is playing with them and that he must have been watching them all along, calling in that Sylvia was missing even before she was butchered. Hole surveys the surrounding buildings and locates the head of Sylvia perched on top of a snowman at the bottom of a frozen abandoned silo.
In between time we catch glimpses of a back story featuring some Bergen based ace detective who came close to uncovering the Snowman murders some ten or fifteen years back. Detective Gert Rafto (Val Kilmer) was a drunken no nonsense kinda guy who met with a very sticky end at the hands of the Snowman, that was cleverly masked over to make it look like a suicide. When Hole goes to Bergen to investigate he is met by DC Svensson (Toby Jones) who simply reports that it was a plain and simple suicide and was therefore not investigated further. Hole, however, thinks there was more to it and examines further. His closer examination reveals a connection between Rafto and Bratt.
The final plot scenario is the story of Hole's on again off again long term relationship with his ex-partner and art dealer Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her teenage son Oleg (Michael Yates) by her first marriage. Hole feels more than a semi-fatherly connection to Oleg despite Rakel's husband Mathias (Jonas Karlsson) also playing adoptive father duty who works as a medical consultant specialist that sees him away quite often on business or attending conferences, so giving Rakel the chance to rekindle with Hole, albeit temporarily - a fact that Mathias seems to accept.
Meanwhile back to the chilling killing as the body count rises and dismembered corpses turn up in all manner of locations, there seems little to connect the murderous spree other than motherhood, by neglect, abortion, jealousy etc. while their mysterious vanishings seems to coincide with fresh snow fall. Hole seems to do little actual detective work here, leaving all the investigative work to Bratt only to come along at the end and join the dots and bish bash bosh the serial killer is out in the open and exposed back where it all began in that desolate snow covered mountain side dwelling where Rakel and Oleg's lives are hanging in the balance. Hole sits across the table from his two loved ones almost powerless having to answer questions that determine whether the electric motorised garrote held by the Snowman is tightened or loosened around Rakel's neck. Needless to say, it comes down to a face off on a frozen lake with Hole shot to the ground and the Snowman approaching ready to plug him again at close range to finish the job.
This is a disjointed film where, alas, the sum of its parts are not greater than the (Harry) Hole. With a strong ensemble supporting cast who for the most part are left wanting to do more with the little screen time and dialogue afforded them, the film meanders from one grizzly killing to the next while Hole and Bratt join the seemingly simple dots to expose the serial killer. Fassbender and Ferguson are well cast, but that alone can't save this film that is too busy with side stories that go nowhere and add little value instead of getting down and dirty with the detective work and concentrate on what drives The Snowman to commit his unthinkable crimes. When the quality of Scandinavian police driven crime drama film and television is so good, despite the snow covered Norwegian vistas, this film feels like a hurried by the numbers affair that I'm sure will leave the legions of fans of the source novel thinking WTF! If Harry Hole does return to the big screen in another adaptation, and Fassbender could do so easily, let's hope that the lessons learned from this first instalment bode well for any follow-up as there is just enough of a foundation to do so.
-Steve, at Odeon Online-