Film reviews

#567 – Snowpiercer (2013)

Snowpiercer (2013)

Film review #567

Director: Bong Joon-Ho

SYNOPSIS: After an attempt to halt climate change by releasing a chemical into the atmosphere, the Earth has turned into a frozen wasteland. The only survivors live aboard a trans-continent train that takes one year to travel the globe. At the front of the train, the people live in luxury, while those at the rear live in squalor. Among them is Curtis, who is scheming to revolt and make his way to the front of the train, and lead the people there to a better life…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Snowpiercer is a 2013 sci-fi post-apocalypse film based on the French graphic novel of the same name. The opening introduces us to the premise of the film; in which a solution to climate change was to disperse a chemical into the atmosphere, but this had an effect of completely freezing the earth and rendering it uninhabitable. The only survivors are living aboard a train that is constantly moving around the world, completing one full trip every year. The train is separated into a very specific order, with the wealthy and privileged living a life of luxury in the front cars, and the lower class living in squalid conditions in the rear carriages. One such person, Curtis, is working on a plan to stage an uprising to get to the front of the train and take control. The film follows the revolution as it travels through the train from the back to the front, and while you might be a little sceptical of how much variety and action you can fit in a 2-hour film set inside a train, you need not worry, as the film does a solid job of keeping things interesting, and varied. You get the claustrophobic feel of the carriages thanks to the impressive camerawork and crowded sets that generate a unique environment. Different carriages look like slums, factories, classrooms, restaurants, and nightclubs, all bound up in the same physical dimensions of a train carriage, and it’s very solidly executed. The story is a fairly simple one to follow, and again, despite it’s linearity, the film is able to drop in plenty of surprises and unique obstacles as the cast travel through the train. Perhaps they could have done something a bit more impactful with the ending, but that’s the only criticism I can think of.

The cast of characters are well defined, and often exaggerated personifications of different facets of society. Curtis is the reluctant leader of the revolution, and you get a decent insight into the decisions he makes and how they weigh upon him. There’s also a constant element of danger, as the stakes are constantly raised as a reminder that no one is safe; as main characters get killed left and right, and the revolution is always in a precarious position. The cast feels genuine, and on the whole the film is well acted, with a good, varied cast.

As mentioned, the film really shines in it’s design and atmosphere: the train is able to encapsulate all these familiar environments, but with the twist of being contained in a carriage. It doesn’t rely on cheap special effects, but rather well-co-ordinated action sequences that, thanks to the cramped settings, put you right in the action. The premise of a global-spanning train might sound a bit silly, and a post-apocalyptic setting that is used because only the best ones have already been done to death, but Snowpiercer genuinely offers something refreshing and exciting, combining a harsh and gritty setting with some stylish and exuberant characters. While the ending leaves things open-ended, it’s a satisfying journey that combines a layer of seriousness and high stakes with some more absurd and exaggerated characters that lift the film out of being a total gloomfest just enough. Yes, the train is a thinly-veiled metaphor for the class-system, and there’s not a lot of surprises in that regard, but the film genuinely surprises in being an entertaining, action-packed story despite the kneejerk impressions you might have of a revolution taking place on a train. I genuinely enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and again, while not perfect, excels in enough ways to take it an entertaining and interesting watch.