Snowpiercer Review

Posted June 26, 2014 by Guilherme Jacobs in Movies

If there’s a thing we should absolutely never do is start to think Hollywood is the only place generating movies worthy of conversation, and that outside of a couple movies here and there, it’s all coming from the same place, the same country. I remember the first time someone told me to pay attention to the Korean cinema, it was, of all people, my gym trainer (back when I cared about my body’s shape), and to be completely honest with you, I didn’t pay much attention to what he said. A big mistake I’ve corrected since then, not only there but in Denmark, Argentina and other places, a lot of fascinating directors and voices are being shaped.

Joon-ho Bong is one of them, he’s also one of  the most interesting directors working right now and that’s because he has rarely done the same genre multiple times and yet his work is clearly unique across the board, so when Snowpiercer, his first movie in English that also happens to be a sci-fi story, finally got here, I quickly made my way to watch it. And boy, was it worth it.

Snowpiercer feels like a sci-fi idea born in the late 70s or 80s that matured visually all the way up to now. And that’s exactly what it is, the film is based on the French comic book Le Transperceneige, created by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette and first published in 1982, a time when comics such as The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen were shaping the medium forever. I’d argue Le Transperceneige had been released in the United States back then, it would be alongside them. This is a story that doesn’t hold back, a story that isn’t afraid of going big and trying new things even if they don’t make all the sense in the world, and this is a movie that doesn’t shy away from showing you exactly how dark the reality of its world is.

In Snowpiercer the world has been frozen and the only survivors leave aboard a train that runs across the globe, never stopping. A hierarchy has been created inside the train, the 1% live on the front, and the not-so-rich and important all the way back on the last cart. That’s where Curtis (Chris Evans) lives. Curtis is a young man, but he also is old enough to remember the world from before, and he knows there are better ways to live, so he’s determined to start a revolution and make his way to the front of the train with Edgar (Jamie Bell), Tanya (Octavia Spencer) and a number of other citizens hungry for revenge against the many inhuman acts the front people have made against them. To do so, they need to reach the prison cart and free Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song), a man who has the knowledge necessary to open the gates from cart to cart.

By the time the revolution starts we are completely on Curtis’ side, because by the time it starts we’ve seen how horrible the front can be, how they view the back people as a toolbox from which they can simply pull what they need and, if it breaks, discard it. One of the things that help solidify that notion is a fantastic and horrifying scene in which Tilda Swinton, who plays some sort of emissary from the front of the train, goes full Tilda Swinton delivering one of the movie’s many singular acting moments.

What follows is a remarkable, bloody, beautiful realized journey that takes the characters across multiple carts and the way Bong brings each of them to life is quite the achievement. Every single one feels like a different world on its own, like you’ve walked through a portal and when you finally see what’s going on on said cart, it instantly clicks. “Of course they’d have a cart for this” is a thing that you’ll keep coming back to. But Snowpiercer isn’t terribly worried about realism. What I love about this story, and it’s a thing Drew McWeeny also pointed out in his review, is that it feels like one of those movies that had a clear metaphor and that weren’t really going for a possible, semi-grounded world. It’s a science-fiction story in which the fiction leads the science. I love that, and that makes me glad this was released now, where so many movies, specially in the sci-fi genre, try to take some concept or problem we see now and expand on it. There have been fantastic movies done that way, but Snowpiercer feels like such an original creation, such a unique thing, you can’t help but wonder why aren’t filmmakers trying this instead of that.

The action sequences in the movie are visceral. The way they happen is more personal and intense, there’s no random henchman death, each time blood is shed you feel like a life was just lost and that is so powerful your body will recognize it. Violence here is not just a thing that happens, every encounter is important, real and most of all, it’s memorable. Kyung-pyo Hong’s cinematography is also to blame for that, and the way he realizes a specific sequence so ingenious, that speaks so much about the train and the outside world, left me with my jaw on the floor.

On top of all of that, we have Chris Evans’ greatest role yet, and it’s also his more complex one, because the moment you find out about Curtis’ past and how and why he relates to Gilliam (John Hurt) in the particular way he does, you’ll see all the imagery in the movie in a different way. Hurt brings his A-game to this one, and there are few actors that transmit leadership, weight and sadness like he does. Tilda Swinton comes manages to top herself over and over. Jamie Bell is the one that struggles, maybe it’s because his character is too young, but I felt like he was trying too much, being too literal, over-acting the part to the point where I didn’t buy into some of his choices.

Watching Snowpiercer, I felt like I had just seen an instant classic, and I won’t be surprised if this movies gains a worldwide recognition as the years go by, becoming an important landmark in the science-fiction genre that transcends what pop-culture thought the genre was at the time.

Snowpiercer is out on limited release tomorrow. Please go watch it.

About the Author

Guilherme Jacobs