directed by Bong Joon-ho
(CJ Entertainment, 2014)

Snowpiercer will certainly go down as one of the most unusual movies I have ever seen. It certainly isn't your usual post-apocalyptic film, that's for certain.

The location of this particular dystopia is on a train, the eponymously titled Snowpiercer, a perpetually moving high-speed, atomic luxury transport that circles along the same tracks over and over again, year after year. The planet has prematurely entered an ice age after an attempt to save the planet's environment via science that went badly wrong. Humanity's last survivors exist on the train, the rich living in comfort in the front of the train and the poor scraping by in horrifyingly squalid conditions while being experimented on by the upper class. After 17 years of inhumane conditions and many failed attempts at a takeover, back-of-the-train revolutionaries, led by reluctant leader Curtis (Chris Evans), are ready for a final showdown.

This is a highly ambitious, very stylized and intense epic whose brutality and darkness serve to bring into stark relief the reality of class system that the power brokers of society impose on the masses. The lows to which humanity can stoop, the exploitation of human emotion, and the morality of vengeance are the main points.

Snowpiercer is definitely a social commentary from start to finish but it's also a good piece of sci-fi fiction with some pretty great action. In spite of some glaring flaws in its logic -- including the implausibility of actually keeping anyone alive on a circling train for over 17 years while maintaining a perfect biological environment -- the film's message remains intact. This a very dark, gritty and rather sadistic story that's peppered with intelligent performances from Chris Evans as Curtis, an intelligent but weary and emotionally drained man who literally has the weight of the world on his shoulders; Jaime Bell as Edgar, his comrade-in-arms, and John Hurt as Curtis's mentor, Gilliam. Tilda Swinton as Mason, the batspit crazy voice of authority, and Ed Harris as Wilson, the despotic owner of the train, are mesmerizing as Curtis's upper-management-from-hell adversaries.

The real star is the flawed societal system that seems doomed to fail in spite of how hard we try and improve ourselves. No matter where the train goes we are all headed in the same predestined direction, an idea helped out greatly by the dark, almost hallucinatory visuals.

Though it requires a great deal of suspended relief, especially with special effects somewhat hampered by bad CGI, Snowpiercer is an unusual, highly immersive visual thrill ride that makes you feel as though you are right there in the cloistered world of the train compartments. The flaws don't impede the enjoyment of a very original story, one that will stay with you long for a long time afterward. It's not revolutionary but it is brilliant, has more depth than most apocalyptic stories, and is backed up by stunning, edge-of-your seat action sequences. It's the unsettling, dark side of futurism and it's a richly satisfying ride.

review by
Mary Harvey

17 October 2015

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