Snowman’s Land: A Dark Comedy with a Pesky Corpse

09/13/2012 10:00 AM |

Snowman’s Land
Directed by Tomasz Thomson

Able to establish a deadpan tone but not always to maintain narrative tension, Snowman’s Land is a pretty good addition to the robust subgenre one IMDB listmaker calls “dark comedies with pesky corpses, botched kidnappings, murderous blunders, & accidental deaths.” The first few minutes introduce us to Walter (Jürgen Rißmann), a stringy-haired, baggy-eyed hood-for-hire who loses his job after botching a hit. We see enough of his life to be as eager as he is to escape it, and Rißmann embodies Walter’s self-loathing with elegant understatement—the gingerly way he lowers himself into his car in the frigid dawn after a long night of drinking telling us all we need to know about how devoid his life is of comfort or warmth.

Everyone in this harsh German winter is dreaming of the Caribbean or Mexico, but when Walter is offered an ill-defined job in the icy Carpathian mountains, he’s too broke to refuse. His partner for this mysterious assignment turns out to be a twitchy younger hitman named Micky (Thomas Wodianka, looking like Woody Harrelson’s darker, wirier little brother). A self-aggrandizing loser, Micky makes sad-sack old Walter sound like the voice of reason, bringing out a protective instinct in the older man that makes him almost sympathetic. But there are no heroes in this resolutely anti-glamorous story: not Berger (Reiner Schöne), the sociopath who hired Walter and Micky, or Sibylle (Eva-Katrin Hermann), Berger’s flagrantly transgressive wife, or Kazik (Waléra Kanischtscheff), the doughy-faced henchman who’s dreaming of replacing his boss. Nearly everyone betrays somebody else before this lethal game of musical chairs is over. And though Walter is the only one of the bunch who tries to keep his word, there’s no real sense of honor or Hollywood heroics about him either. He may wind up the winner, but that’s purely by default, not by design.

Writer-director Tomasz Thomson can be a little too on-the-nose, as when he keeps making Micky brag about how he and Walter are “two professionals,” or when a nature show Micky watches on TV draws too neat a parallel between the trouble being cooked up by two young chimps and the shenanigans between Micky and Sibylle. But Thomson is also sometimes too coy, having his characters talk a lot about the menacing lowlifes who supposedly populate the surrounding woods but never showing even a threat of violence from anyone but Berger and the other interlopers he’s brought to this chilly land.

Maybe the director is trying to make a point about how we project the evil we create, forever fighting our own demons. But after two of the main characters head out to fight unseen enemies and never come back, I started to wonder if the real reason might be more prosaic. Maybe Thomson just didn’t have the budget for a big cast (there are less than a dozen speaking parts in the movie), or choreographing fight scenes just isn’t his thing. Whatever the reason, the story putters to an end in a way that may be meant as ironic but feels anticlimactic instead. Still, this is an enjoyable little movie—especially for those of us who like dark comedies with pesky corpses.

Opens September 14