Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Featuring the creepiest choo-choo this side of The Polar Express, Snowpiercer takes place entirely on board a never-ending train ride, in which a dystopian society is trapped on the tracks. While the crowded cars are certainly no picnic, stepping foot outside equals certain death.
Based on a French graphic novel called Le Transperceneige and directed by South Korean visionary Bong Joon-Ho, the hardscrabble horror story takes place in 2031, some 17 years after the end of the world as we know it.
The surviving humans live on an insulated train that travels the world on a seemly endless cycle in hopes that all will be off-board soon. But that’s unlikely. The Snowpiercer has 1,001 carriages, a perpetual motion engine, and nowhere to go — the frozen exterior continues to forbid, forcing the survivors to form a claustrophobic society. When the underdogs revolt, all hell breaks loose.
The ringleaders and chief class-strugglers are Curtis (Chris Evans) and Edgar (Jamie Bell), who gather a band of ragtag freedom fighters – among them old warhorse Gilliam (John Hurt) and washed up brainiac Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho) – and go for the gusto, busting out from their derelict barracks and into first-class. Among the aristocrats are Mason (Tilda Swinton), a shrill, cartoony totalitarian figurehead, and Alison Pill as an unnamed smarmy schoolteacher out to brainwash the kids who were born on the train and know nothing of the outside world. Between the caboose and coveted control center are merciless armies of evil.
Snowpiercer has the look and feel of a classic Terry Gilliam steampunk sci-fi flick. The gritty, grimy texture of it all is captured in its gory glory by cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo – who does an admirable job of capturing a big, bloody, and brutal battle that looks convincingly like a self-contained war scene from Lord of the Rings, and putting in all inside that narrow locomotive.
It looks great and is well-acted, but there’s a garishness to it which negates any emotional investment one might otherwise have. Between the stilted exposition, poorly wrought special effects, and scattershot storytelling, it’s hard to decide which I liked least as the one-hour mark came and went, and the movie itself began to feel like an endless train ride.
It might play better at home, but Bong’s English debut opened in South Korean theaters on August 1, 2013, becoming the country’s highest-grossing film. It debuts Stateside on June 27, 2014.
2 out of 5