Finally, after nearly a year since it was released in South Korea, Joon-Ho Bong’s Snowpiercer has arrived in U.S. cinemas. The film has won major acclaim since its international release last year and in this case, the hype is real—Snowpiercer is one of the year’s best.
It has been seventeen years since a failed experiment to stop climate change left the Earth encased in ice. The remains of humanity exist on the Rattling Ark, or Snowpiercer, a long train that runs a circuit around the world every year. The train has been divided into a strict caste system. The haves live in the front, while the have nots stay in the tail section. Curtis (Chris Evans) has a plan to get to the front of the train and overthrow the mysterious Wilford, the man who created the train. He is joined by other members of the tail section and opposed by both Wilford’s soldiers and his mouthpiece, Mason (Tilda Swinton). I won’t spoil what happens plot-wise, but what moviegoers get is a smart, violent film with huge shocks at the end.
There is a lot of weirdness in Snowpiercer, some of it working better than other parts. The film is based on a French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, but it has a very anime feel to it with strange characters, especially Mason, who seem to be bizarre just for bizarreness’ sake. The editing at the start of the film is very anime too, so I was surprised to find out that it’s based on a French graphic novel as opposed to a Japanese manga. Also, some of the elements of the train’s society didn’t ring true to me based on the timeline. Wilford is put forth as a deity by those who serve him and they spread that message to all. While it’s true that Wilford’s people are probably just about indoctrinating the younger generations for control, it just felt like more time should have passed for something like that to develop and take hold. So, some of the weirdness just to be weird and a few other elements didn’t allow me to completely buy into the world, but I was enthralled with the characters and the story.
The train is pretty cool and has plenty of surprises in store. Several of the different cars feel like homages to different sci-fi films smashed together. The tail section is very Mad Max, while farther up the train, there is kind of a Matrix feel to the proceedings. Everything blends together well, though, to make the film visually arresting.
The cast does a spectacular job here. Chris Evans gives one of his best performances as Curtis, the reluctant leader haunted by a past he wants to forget. Jamie Bell is good as Curtis’ sidekick, Edgar, while Octavia Spencer brings quiet desperation to Tanya, the grieving mother. Tilda Swinton is perfectly despicable as Mason and John Hurt brings his usual gravitas to the wise Gilliam. Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko are great as a father-daughter team that helps the tail section passengers move up the train.
Overall, Snowpiercer is not only a great sci-fi film, it’s also one of the year’s best, period. It’s a very dark film with hopeful moments, depending on how you look at them. But, it’s well worth taking a ride.
Snowpiercer is in limited release and available on VOD.