Tuesday, July 15, 2014


South Korean writer-director Joon-ho Bong’s SNOWPIERCER is a film which borrows many familiar elements from the science-fiction world; a dystopian society, class distinctions, a post-apocalyptic world, and a reluctant hero who shoulders the burden of salvation. But recycling old ideas shouldn’t really matter; its how those old ideas are used which really counts.
Seventeen years after a new ice age has wiped out the Earth, a few thousand survivors live aboard a massive, self-sustaining train which endlessly circles the globe. The rear of the train is occupied by the poor and destitute, while the front is controlled by the rich and powerful. With tensions boiling over, Curtis (Chris Evans) and his loyal friends (John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer), lead a charge towards the front of the train, where they are opposed by the train’s middle-manager (Tilda Swinton), and the master of it all (Ed Harris).

The story of SNOWPIERCER is a simple one; get to the front of the train. Its simplicity is beefed up by the characters having some very good reasons to do so. The poor, as they live in the rear of the train, are fed just enough to stay alive and live in filth with no comforts. On top of that, their children are constantly taken from them to the front of the train for unknown reasons. A lot of time is spent establishing these strong points, so it isn’t much of a stretch to root for our characters as they charge towards the front.
The backstory behind each character grows as they progress from car-to-car, with each door they open leading to a more lavish one than the car before. The situation is a little on the bizarre side, but as they make progress towards the front, the way the train works and sustains itself is explained in bits and pieces, and offers some solid grounding to the silly concept of a train circling the Earth. The journey is very much inspired by Dante’s Inferno as the characters seek to travel from Hell to Paradise, and the classic feel keeps the film’s forward momentum going.

Director  Joon-ho Bong keeps the pacing brisk and films a beautiful looking movie. The claustrophobic nature of the train cars and their worn-out, futuristic design goes a long way in telling the story, and Bong explores every inch of it. Fight scenes between Curtis’ people and the soldiers guarding the front are beautifully realized; some of which are shot in complete blackness with only firelight to illuminate things. Some of the battles feel like they could use another pass in the editing room, as they feel like they go on for way too long, and the film feels longer than two hours. The narrative rarely looks outside of the train, which is a blessing because the decimated city-landscapes suffer from poor CGI rendering.
Acting is top-notch all around. Ed Harris, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, and Octavia Spencer are all spectacular and are developed just enough; which is a good thing because their director doesn’t think twice about knocking them off. Tilda Swinton absolutely vanishes behind her character, and you often have to remind yourself that she’s there. South Korean actors Ko A-Sung and Kang-ho Song are also excellent, but the movie is owned by Chris Evans. For most of the film he is his usual heroic and strong self, but towards the end when he shows some vulnerability and lets the emotions come out…well, get ready for the surprise of a lifetime.

The finale comes about after a series of shocking twists and turns which border on the gruesome side; so much that they may not leave your head for a long time. When all is said and done there is a lot to think about, as SNOWPIERCER offers a ton to handle on its wild, yet thoughtful ride.

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