The Snowman (2017): A taut cinematic thriller

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Shot entirely in Norway, the starkness of the setting of ‘The Snowman’ adds an authenticity to the characters created by Jo Nesbo (so often lost when translating the written word into film). With Martin Scorsese and Tomas Alfredson as Executive Producers, the author’s vision has been retained in its entirety

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Chloë Sevigny, Val Kilmer, J.K. Simmons

I, personally, believe that it’s this starkness that builds and keeps the tension – disappearing footsteps in the snow; snowballs being thrown against glass windows; and, snowmen being created keeping beady eyes focussed on the homes of the disappearing women.

However, cruelty, disparagement and bitter cold aren’t going to keep Nesbo’s iconic detective - Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) from getting to the heart of the matter and finding the killer. Adding a twist to the mix is the addition of Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) – a young cop with a hidden agenda. Ostensibly she is concentrating on young women who have gone missing with every fresh fall of snow all connected with the presence of a snowman eyeing their homes.

I am an avid reader and love Nesbo’s books, so was totally enthralled with this cinematic translation (not a usual occurrence, sadly to say).

[Extract from the production notes]:

‘What is it about the investigator that enthrals readers all across the world? Like so many of his literary associates, he is a wholly flawed man who struggles with a personal life littered with ragged cracks and dark crevices. An alcoholic who is unreliable and disorganized, he has an innate inability to commit. Still, for all his personal failings, he is the consummate detective: scrupulous, determined and creative—a man who will stop at nothing until justice has been served. 

‘He is the genuine anti-hero, an impossible character, but impossible not to like. “This is a man of many contradictions,” reveals Nesbø.  “He believes in the legal system, he believes in the Scandinavian democratic model; yet, he’s an outsider who doesn’t feel at home in Scandinavian society. He cares for those who are close to him, but he doesn’t want anyone to be close to him. He’s struggling between being a man who loves women—and one woman in particular—but who is trying to find a way to live his life alone.  He doesn’t want to be a member of the herd, and yet he has this deep social reflex that many of us have; we feel this urge to contribute to this herd.”

“The challenge in adapting Harry to screen, aside from preserving those characteristics that make him so unique, was to avoid falling into a clichéd representation of a flawed policeman solving a crime,” explains producer Robyn Slovo. “We’ve tried to make Harry unpredictable, original in his thinking, not terribly socialized, not exactly charismatic.  He’s definitely what might be described as difficult, and that is what’s been challenging in bringing him to life.  He’s not 100-percent action hero.  He’s a thinking man’s detective who is put in very dangerous and difficult situations.”

‘A story about a serial killer is not what would be considered usual fare for four producers whose accomplished work runs the gamut from 'Catch a Fire' and 'Les Misérables' to 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' and 'Love Actually', but their allure to the material lay very much in the proposition of director Tomas Alfredson. 

Alfredson discusses that his approach to filmmaking is to guide the audience through his work, but never decide what each individual should experience. He explains: “My films are each a piece of entertainment, but they cannot just be that. I need them to be something else, too—to tell something about people or society, or a part of the world you haven’t seen before. My goal is for people to react physically—to get scared, laugh or to sweat. The more different the reactions, the better. It’s lovely to meet with people from an audience and hear very different things. That’s when you’ve succeeded.”

This commitment to his craft leads the filmmaker to be quite selective in the stories he chooses to tell. Alfredson admits he found Nesbø’s protagonist to be riveting. “When I read a story, I try to find an animal for each character. Is he or she a rabbit, wolf, dog or a cat? Not visually, but the soul of a certain animal. To me, Harry is an owl; he is someone people don’t see, but who sees everyone else. He’s very smart and silent; he knows when to speak and when to interact. But, he also feels alienated with the rest of the world. His private life has fallen into pieces, and the only thing that works is his intuitive talent as an investigator.”

Slovo comments: “Tomas offers a particular interpretation on things, which means we could take a best-selling genre thriller and turn it into something unexpected. Because it’s set in Scandinavia and Tomas is Scandinavian, the excitement was involved in his original take, not going the Scandi-Noir route. We’d rather a route with a director who has proven himself to be good at noir, tension and at surprise. He has also proven to himself to be particularly good at horror. All those elements made it feel like a good fit.”

“The Snowman does have that other element that previous books don’t have, and that is the horror element,” adds Nesbø.  “The title ‘The Snowman’ conveys a certain image, as does the idea of an innocent thing that is taken out of context and put in a new context; the more cozy and familiar it is, the scarier it becomes.”

Discussing handing over the reins of a cherished property to another creative team, the author reflects: “They chose a director who is a storyteller in his own right and who isn’t there just to give a version of the book, but who wanted to use the book as input for his story. As a storyteller myself, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Tomas’ understanding and my trusting him made it easy for me to say ‘Take these pages that are written and use them as a helpful input for a story that you want to tell.”




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