Jürgen Rißmann, the protagonist of Snowman’s Land, is a professional hit man, but more than that and more than anything, he’s a hopeless sad-sack, a greasy-haired fuck-up of a hired tough with little else to his life. When an assignment goes awry—he accidentally kills the wrong guy before tracking down the right target—his need to get out of town and his lack of funds coincides with a job offer in a remote area of the Carpathian Mountains. It will be “more vacation than work,” promises the friend who passes along the gig, but the reality is the stuff of a sometimes-comedic nightmare.
The second film from Poland-born, German-raised writer-director Tomasz Thomson after 2001’s Silent Storm, Snowman’s Land is a (no pun intended) hit-or-miss affair in which Rißmann and even-less-competent colleague Thomas Wodianka make an astonishing mess of things while hanging around in a remote mansion belonging to the crime boss who hired them (Reiner Schöne). When they arrive at the place, he isn’t even around; the only one there is his bored, tetchy wife (Eva-Katrin Hermann) who runs a side business making and dealing drugs and has no interest in entertaining the two men. Mix ennui, substance abuse, and weapons with irresponsible guys, and Schöne’s inevitable return becomes something to dread.
Tonally, Snowman’s Land feels like a German throwback to a ’90s indie, but without the energy—the pacing is languid to the point of aimlessness, dithering with Rißmann and Wodianka around the house as they explore the rooms and watch TV, then attempting to accelerate into absurdist violence halfway through. The film periodically pauses for a deadpan voiceover to make observations about the characters or the region’s grim history, a perky stylistic touch that feels at odds with the overall meandering sensibility, which is at heart more melancholy than darkly funny. The characters’ yearning to get away registers more than the jabs at black humor, particularly in contrast to the gray-on-gray urban setting in which the film opens, and the frigid, lonely one to which it travels, as surveyed by two memorable 360-degree shots of the snow-covered, hazy wilderness. Between Rißmann’s wistful watching of a Mexican vacation commercial and his boss’ use of light therapy, sunshine and warm climates seem as far away as any hope for happiness.