Directed by Joon-ho Bong
Starring Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie, Bell, Ed Harris and Octavia Spencer.
Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system emerges.
Critics spend a lot of time dissecting what is going right (or more likely) wrong with a particular genre. As if there is some magic formula to filmmaking that anyone could adhere to and create something magical. Movies can’t be constructed like an erector set or drafted from a blueprint and built. Movies work or don’t work because of a number of factors and in this day and age where computers can generate fantastic worlds and impossible images it’s very rarely technical reasons that a summer action film does or doesn’t work. A good summer action film lives and dies by the strength of the characters and the believability of the world that they create.
Big budget blockbusters often ask audiences to take a leap of faith into a world far more fantastic to the one we inhabit. You are asked to believe in a world where aliens invade earth or men don capes and cowls to fight crime. Where turtles can become mutated teenage ninjas or a magical world exists where wizards are trained to wield their powers. The number one priority of a filmmaker is to create a world that is believable, even when the boundaries of reality are stretched to outrageous proportions.
Director Joon-ho Bong has succeeded in creating a very believable world where some very crazy thing happen in his first English language film Snowpiercer. It’s the kind of summer movie they don’t make any more. The kind of brutal, violent, drama that is staged better than any movie I’ve seen this year. A brilliantly assembled cast, crew, and team of creators who have made something unique, thought provoking, and at times indescribable. There’s a half dozen movies I could make comparisons to that would give you pieces of what Snowpiercer is. Movies like Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, The Raid, and The Hunger Games. Filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Chan-wook Park. Even video games like Bioshock. It’s a mash up of art and apocalypse.
The plot revolves around the last remnants of humanity who have escaped a frozen world by taking refuge in a giant train. There is a natural division of the classes. The class war is broken down in in the most simplistic of ways. The haves are in the front of the train. The have-nots are in the back. The downtrodden become tired of the oppressive regime which keeps them on the precipice of starvation, so they decide to stage a coup! “The peasants are revolting”, yadda yadda yadda.
What blew me away about Snowpiercer was how damn tense the movie is. It’s like a master class in friction. There are scenes where Bong is smart enough to slow things down, even as things are about the get ugly. And not that damn time manipulation computer generated crap like you’d see in 300. Simply by drowning out the noise, pausing for a moment, and building up the music, he builds the moments into battle like a surge of adrenaline waiting to be unleashed. It’s practically orgasmic. Modern action films have become frantic, attention span killing, hatchet jobs that are edited with the pace of a cocaine overdose. Snowpiercer is crafted slowly, the camera moves deftly and navigates the close quarters of the train with a fluidity that is sorely lacking in modern American cinema. The train itself provides an aesthetically amazing canvas. An entire society living on a series of
A well crafted, beautiful world only matters if you’re invested in the characters, and the cast of is an interesting collection of actors. Seeing Academy Award winners like Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, and Octavia Spencer in a movie like Snowpiercer is fascinating and somewhat unexpected. Chris Evans (Captain America) delivers a performance that seems far more nuanced than his Marvel movie pedigree has shown us. As the somewhat reluctant leader, Curtis, of the revolt, he is far more fearful and hesitant in the decisions he makes that puts the lives of so many in peril. Curtis isn’t the traditional action hero, but a man who feels his hand is forced by the upper class who have enslaved him for far too long. Even though he feels justified in his actions he is pained by the death of those he commands and those he is forced to kill.
The other thing about Snowpiercer that I loved is the singular nature of the story. Every character is expendable. There will be no sequels or spin offs. It’s a story that exists in the framework of one movie, and through their journey to the front of the train you get to know about these broken characters and the strange, infuriating, and fascinating world they inhabit. This is the closest thing I’ve seen to a masterpiece I’ve seen in the past ten years. I loved this movie, scars and all. I can’t remember a film that felt so ridiculous, so engaging, and so perfect.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.