Review: SNOWFLAKE (2018), an irreverent and ambitious fantasy thriller from Germany
Movies that break the fourth wall tend to be either fun little romps —think “Deadpool” and its sequel— or insufferably smug exercises in tediousness and supposed cleverness. A film that prides itself in being almost 100% self-aware, making its characters actually interact with the screenwriter of their story, are at risk of belonging to the second group —but thankfully, Adolfo Kolmerer and William James’ “Snowflake” (originally called “Schneeflöckchen”) manages to avoid most of the pitfalls a picture of this kind might fall into. Fun and incredibly violent, “Snowflake” manages to be totally self-aware while never contradicting its own internal logic —quite a challenge, considering the way other, lesser productions have tried to do similar things, and failed miserably.
The film intertwines two story threads, and eventually reveals the way they are interconnected. Obviously most of the fun one has while watching “Snowflake” resides in finding out exactly how events will transpire —will the two groups of characters eventually meet, or will their fates be resolved through separate outcomes? Will the screenwriter of the story, a dentist called Arend (Alexander Schubert), finish it the way he always intended to, or will he meet the demands of assassins Javid (Reza Brojerdi) and Tan (Erkan Acar)? And will young Eliana (Xenia Assenaza) manage to avenge the death of her parents, whether her loyal bodyguard (David Masterson) decides to help her or not?
It’s all presented as if a young Quentin Tarantino were writing and directing it. Direction is energetic, dialogue is frequently clever and occasionally amusing, and characters are, for the most part, quite intriguing. Plus, the fact that the movie is set in a post-rebellion Berlin also helps; it manages to give an edge of the story, and to justify the fact that many of these characters are bloodthirsty bastards. Mind you, many of the violent acts they commit are injustificable —especially the way Javid and Tan treat other people, tragic backstory or not—, but at least they make sense in the context of a chaotic and ruthless Germany. There are little to no consequences to many of the killings in “Snowflake”, because the characters inhabit a world in the middle of a social and economic crisis.
If I were to mention at least one empathetic character, that would have to be Eliana. All she wants is to find the people who killed her parents and enact revenge, and although she is willing to go to certain (unnerving) lengths in order to fulfil her mission, at least she never seems to lose all her humanity. Nevertheless, one has to consider the fact that she doesn’t mind hiring a couple or cannibals, or even a megalomanic assassin —she might be fighting for an honourable cause, but she still makes mistakes. Xenia Assenaza’s intense performance, while a little stiff from time to time, is strong enough to make us care for Eliana and her mission —cannibals and all.
In fact, all the performances are very good, which is quite surprising, considering “Snowflake” is a low-budget affair in which all the cast and crew worked without payment. Reza Brojerdi and Erkan Acar are believable as Javid and Tan, respectably; they walk a thin line between being completely detestable and slightly obnoxious, and although I don’t think we’re meant to empathise with them —they are a couple of bloodthirsty and slightly psychopathic killers, after all—, at least we can admire their perseverance. David Masterson portrays Carson as a loyal and wise bodyguard —and allows Xenia Assenaza to demonstrate her English language skills— and Alexander Schubert is slightly goofy as Arend. He doesn’t portray him as an all-knowing mastermind behind the fates of all the other characters —he seems to be as lost the rest of them, and thus, as a confused by his new, apparently magical powers as one would expect.
Once again, considering the film’s low-budget, and the fact that it was shot entirely with DSRL cameras, is looks quite magnificent. Photography is moody and atmospheric, and production design is on-point —even though “Snowflake” doesn’t make use of hundreds of extras or expensive-looking money-shots, it manages to effectively portray this sorta-futuristic Berlin as a dangerous and nasty place. In fact, it’s evident directors Adolfo Kolmerer and William James managed to get the most bang for their buck —they don’t flood the movie with blood and gore, and they don’t insert unnecessary CGI, but they still manage to convey quite a bit of violence and world-building through pure and simple storytelling. In any case, “Snowflake" shows that one doesn’t really need millions of dollars and fancy cameras in order to craft an ambitious fantasy thriller.
Nevertheless, it must be said that you must have an open mind while watching “Snowflake”, whether you’re a fan of fantasy or post-apocalyptic movies, or not. After all, this is a film that involves gangsters, assassins, an electricity-powered vigilante, people with pig and chicken masks, and a blood-covered angel who might or might not be an actual servant of God. Plus, there’s the whole “we’re living a movie script” situation, which could have ended up being very confusing. Fortunately, though, the film manages to give the narrative a very clear structure, explaining some of the more complicated paradoxes through energetic and quite funny interactions between the characters. It’s not too hard to wrap’s one mind around “Snowflake”’s concept, really.
“Snowflake” is a pleasant surprise: a cynical and violent thriller from Germany that manages to ground its high concept in such a way that it engages the viewer both emotionally and intellectually. Yes, some of the protagonists are a little too detestable, but the cleverness of the story, as well as the surprisingly solid special effects, and the effective performances, should be enough to turn even the more demanding audience members into fans. Cheap but never cheap-looking, “Snowflake” is an entertaining and bloody mix between early Quentin Tarantino, “Deadpool”’s self-awareness, and post-apocalyptic stories. And unexpectedly enough, it works quite well.