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Snowpiercer

by Charlie Nash
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Friday Jun 27, 2014
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Chris Evans stars in 'Snowpiercer'
Chris Evans stars in 'Snowpiercer'  (Source:Radius)

Once in a blue moon, a film comes along that's so stunningly assured that it serves as a significant reminder as to why audiences flock to the movies in the first place.

"Snowpiercer," the English-language debut from the internationally acclaimed Korean director Bong Joon-Ho, is such a film: A thrilling science-fiction spectacle that stimulates the mind as much as it provides an astounding visceral experience.

The movie takes place in the year 2031, seventeen years after a chemical known as CW7 was unleashed into the Earth's atmosphere in an attempt to prevent any further stage of global warming. Instead, it exterminated all life on the planet by freezing over the world and its populace. The only survivors of the environmental catastrophe have taken shelter on an enormous train that travels the globe on a yearly basis. This train is known as the Snowpiercer. The upper-class citizens occupy the front of the vehicle; the lower-class civilians reside in the tail.

Chris Evans stars as Curtis, a blue-collar member of the establishment who, with the help of his plucky friend, Edgar (Jamie Bell), and a wise old man named Gilliam (John Hurt), plans a revolt against the corrupt authorities in control of the train's engine. As they manage to move their way forward one room at a time, often through violent combat against the hierarchy's armed forces, the rebels are pushed to ethical extremes, which challenges their morality as they attempt to gain control of the train.

As one can imagine, the film is rife with political allegories, but they never feel preachy or overly expositional. Bong's nightmarish vision of a fractured society that's driven mad by a thirst for power is utterly compelling with a perfect balance of pitch-black humor and existential horror. The premise may seem a bit ridiculous at first, but the film's post-apocalyptic world feels disturbingly authentic, providing chilling parallels to the subversions that occur within our governments today.

Bong's nightmarish vision of a fractured society that's driven mad by a thirst for power is utterly compelling, with a perfect balance of pitch-black humor and existential horror.

The film's characters embody its themes, and the cast here is sensational. Evans, in particular, has come a long way from his pretty-boy roles in "Cellular" and "Fantastic Four" nearly a decade ago; his wounded portrayal of a man who's forced to take charge against the ruling class is hauntingly poignant, conveying subtle layers of anguish beneath his seemingly hardened emotional shell.

On the other end of the spectrum is Tilda Swinton, who's almost unrecognizable: As the grotesque minister Mason, Swinton manages to be viciously cold-blooded as well as a total hoot, chewing the scenery in just about every frame that she's in. Her representation of Mason is a frighteningly realized satirization of how someone within the middle class can be warped into something monstrous without the slightest bit of empathy for the less fortunate members of her culture.

In terms of the supporting players, Bell and Hurt provide great company as two of the most pivotal members of the rebellion. Octavia Spencer also shines as a strong female character named Tanya who's determined to find her son after he's been taken for a "medical inspection." Ah-sung Ko and Kang-ho Song are mysteriously intriguing as two drug addicted lock-pickers, and Allison Pill is flat-out amazing as a propagandist school teacher in the most hilariously twisted scene of any film so far this year.

As a visual stylist, Bong constructs his dystopian civilization through a variety of effectively claustrophobic techniques. The depth of field within each of his shots is perfectly calculated to provide the viewer with the feeling that they are as trapped as the characters themselves, making the film all the more intense to endure. In addition to that, Bong uses everything from slow motion to night-vision within his various action sequences, all of which are efficiently used to place us in the character's perspectives within their attempts to survive. The bloodletting is gruesome at times, but aptly so, for the violence is never meant to titillate but rather to unnerve, much like the darkly persuasive themes that it supports.

"Snowpiercer" may be too grim for some audiences; it's certainly tough to stomach the brutality of its carnage and its bleak sociological theses. That being said, it's a masterful piece of cinema from one of the most idiosyncratic filmmakers working today that shouldn't be missed. All aboard!

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