July 9, 2014

Movie Review: Snowpiercer

It was perhaps a month or two ago that a co-worker messaged me to suggest I see Snowpiercer. At that point I had never heard of it before. To be honest, I didn't really give it any mind at all, almost forgetting the message. In the time since I had been asked about a movie where everyone was stuck on a train, and The Host director's first English language film, as well as a new science fiction movie starring Chris Evans. At some point you would think I would have put all the pieces together, but oh no, not me. None of it would click until I saw Snowpiercer pop up on the movie theater's schedule. Then I couldn't wait for it.

So, Snowpiercer was co-written and directed by Bong Joon-ho, who also was behind the previously mentioned The Host (the South Korean monster movie, not that awful Stephanie Meyers abomination), as well as Mother. It is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige and tells the tale of a post-apocalyptic world where the remainder of humanity is trapped on a train that circumnavigates the Earth.

This movie is endlessly fascinating, it has crafted an entire world within the confines of a train, a closed ecosystem on which a new society has formed. A class system has emerged, with the poor, downtrodden in the rear cars and the well to do upper class in the front cars. All of this leads up to the engine and it's inventor, Wilford. The engine and it's inventor have been given a deity like status, revered with religious-like fervor by those in the upper echelon. It is not quite the same in the rear cars, where the people live on a ration of protein bars (things that look like bricks of jello), are in cramped quarters and have no opportunity to better their lot.

One of those in the back, Curtis (Chris Evans), has an idea. He has a plan to take the engine, to move the entire length of the train and take control for his people. After seventeen year in the back, it is time to improve their lot in life, to stop being pushed around and tormented for the seeming entertainment of the well to do. So, no sooner are the pieces put in place, the plan is executed and the journey through the train begins.

I think I should probably back up a little bit. The world of Snowpiercer is set up during the opening credits. Global warming has become a serious issue and a chemical is developed in an effort to counteract its effects. It is sprayed in the atmosphere and an unintended result happens, a new ice age is started and everything freezes. Well, everything except those lucky enough to have gotten on board the Snowpiercer, now the remnants of humanity live on this train that is endlessly moving to keep from freezing.

It may sound like a simple thing, move from the back of the train to the front. However, this is not that simple, not by a long shot. This movie slowly reveals its world in clever and interesting ways, from the order of the cars, to the informational bits supplied at key points, not to mention revelations about characters we have been following. It may be a straight line from the back of the train to the front, but there is no predicting the turns the tale takes along the way.

Snowpiercer sets up a fascinating world, a dystopian post-apocalyptic city on rails. Class means all to those who have it. A new religion has formed with the train engine as its divine head. The further along we get, the more that is revealed about the people on this train and the society that has developed. It is a tale of the haves and the have nots told in a refreshing way that both invites innovation as well as playing up tropes we all know well. It is a fascinating, intelligent film that delivers ideas laced with beauty and carnage.

This is the sort of movie that rewards viewers with discovery, it is one you do not want to know all the secrets going in. It reveals itself over the course of its two hours, its gritty underbelly, often hidden behind beauty, aggression that can barely contain itself.

The cast is more than up to the task. Chris Evans leads the way with an understated charisma, showing he is more than Captain America. His character is filled with revelations, but you have to look for and wait for them, as he is more often in a constant state of reaction to what is happening around him. Tilda Swinton is almost unrecognizable as the survive at all costs evil Mason. You then have a solid cast filled with the likes of John Hurt, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, Alison Pill, and Song Kang-ho.

Anyone who likes movies loves when one comes along that just captures the imagination. We always watch for films that try things a little different, employ the familiar and make them feel new and fresh again. Snowpiercer is one of those movies that does it all, it gives us character, action, and ideas in equal measure. This is just a fantastic film that delivers, an entertaining movie that delivers more than mere entertainment.

Highly Recommended.

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