“Snowpiercer” doesn’t want for style. In fact, Joon-ho Bong’s film overflows with ideas, encompassing the spectrum from vividly bizarre to profoundly mesmerizing. Hints of the works of Chan-wook Park and Jeunet and Caro surface often, with the plot continually supporting a potpourri of artistry, preternatural happenings, and genre-bending atmospheres. Arterial spray and singing children can occupy the same five-minute window. The extreme mix of styles is refreshing and captivating, though such manic energy can’t seem to hold out for the entirety of the movie. The explanation for the protagonists’ desperate mission doesn’t match the ingenuity of the premise, allowing the conclusion to fail maintaining an equal level of intrigue. And despite the social commentary and metaphors being far from subtle, “Snowpiercer” is still bold, exotic, pulse-pounding entertainment.
To combat the escalating effects of global warming, an artificial cooling agent is released into the Earth’s atmosphere - with disastrous effect. The world is plunged into an ice age and the only survivors board Wilford Industries’ Snowpiercer, a massive, globetrotting train, which circles a continent-connecting track every 365 days. While the impoverished dwell in squalor at the tail end of the train, the rich live lavishly near the front. Willing to suffer the injustices of their armed oppressors no more, the poor, led by Curtis (Chris Evans) and Gilliam (John Hurt), stage an uprising and attempt to make their way forward to the engine room, where they hope to gain control of the speeding locomotive. With the aid of a drug-addicted security expert (Kang-ho Song) and his daughter Yona (Ah-sung Ko), Curtis steadily breaches each successive railcar. But as he inches closer to his target, the price for equality, freedom, and the truth may cost him all he holds dear.
It’s been years since a movie cropped up with this magnitude of nerve-jangling suspense and edge-of-your-seat anticipation. The action sequences in “Snowpiercer” are utterly adrenaline-pumping and raw, embellished with a clairvoyant character that is utilized with the utmost precision for additional tension (prognosticating what hides behind each new door). The basic setup of advancing from one car to the next reaches a sensationally stimulating height once the opposition is revealed, insisting that anything can – and will – happen next. Spontaneity and absolute unpredictability are the film’s greatest assets, followed by gripping character development, an intransigently yet amusingly strange performance by Tilda Swinton, and bloody violence that further demonstrates undeterminable levels of increasing mayhem.
Despite a fascinatingly unique premise infused with garish satire, sociopolitical commentary, fanatically religious propaganda for preordained destinies, and cruel corruption (all disguised as components of a perfectly balanced ecosystem), the scope of the project is too grand for a single movie. Had the focus remained on righting the wrongs of insurgents in a mobile ghetto, the conclusion could have satisfyingly solved the predicaments. But in the world of this postapocalyptic dystopia, the script attempts not only to cover a momentous revolution but also an ultimate solution for Earth’s arctic miasma. As a serious take on global warming, symbolism of the human class system as a multi-compartmentalized train, a morbid twist on the “Demolition Man” segregation and education of survivors, a brief observation on the blinding power of hallucinogenic drugs, and even self-reflection on the invented dramas and dread that fuel the entertainment value of movies, “Snowpiercer” is more than adequate. But as an action-packed science-fiction thriller, even without a solid way to end the picture, it’s a rivetingly inventive, sublimely singular production.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)