Monday, September 10, 2012

Snowman’s Land: Chilly in the East

It is an area so cold and remote, even Germans find it depressing.  Yet, a mysterious crime boss envisions it as the next winter playground for the rich and beautiful.  He is clearly rather cracked—a fact that leads to many complications for the hitman-protagonist of Tomasz Thomson’s Snowman’s Land (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Being a hired killer was a real grind for Walter, even before he botches a workaday assignment.  With his contractor down on him, the slovenly Walter needs to lie low for a while.  Out of nowhere, he is offered the seemingly perfect gig, subbing for a colleague somewhere vaguely to the east.  Essentially, he is to house sit the mountain villa of a notorious gangster widely thought to be dead.  As it happens, old Berger is alive and as erratic as ever.

Walter will have a buddy for this assignment, but the presence of the unstable Micky will prove a mixed blessing at best.  When the younger thug accidentally kills Berger’s unfaithful trophy wife Sibylle in a freak accident, Walter’s peaceful retreat becomes anything but.  Things will get bloody as Burger and Kazik, his lieutenant with a “third eye,” start demanding answers.

Snowman might be German, but it is stylistically compatible with the recent bumper crop of Scandinavian thrillers, featuring a similar brew of lethal black-and-blue comedy against a Nordic backdrop.  Thomson keeps the double-crosses coming at a good clip, without excessively plundering the Tarantino playbook.  He and cinematographer Ralf Mendle actually create a pretty creepy vibe, as Walter’s colleagues and tormentors descend into madness.  While starting as a gangster movie, Snowman almost evolves into a Carpathian Shining.

Jürgen Riβmann has the appropriate morose hound-dog presence as Walter, the comparative gentle giant of an assassin.  However, the film’s real strengths are its villains, played with set-chewing dash by Reiner Schöne and Waléria Kanischtscheff, as Berger and Kazik, respectively.  Though not long for the film, Eva-Katrin Hermann’s Sibylle makes a convincingly shrewish femme fatale.  Suffering in comparison, Thomas Wodianka comes across somewhat blandly as the immature Micky.

While not redefining any genres, Snowman is quite an entertaining character-driven one-blasted-thing-after-another thriller.  Sort of chamber gangster piece, Snowman’s Land is recommended for those who appreciate laughs derived from blood and paranoia, when it opens this Friday (9/14) in New York at the Cinema Village.