Review: Bong Joon-ho’s Cool ‘Snowpiercer’ is a Fantastic Sci-Fi Social Satire

By May 22, 2014

The astute genre fan need only hear the phrase “the new film by Bong Joon-ho” to get excited for Snowpiercer. The mid-level genre fans may need a reminder that Bong Joon-ho directed Memories of Murder (2003), The Host (2006), and Mother (2009), and then they’re in for Snowpiercer. The more inexperienced genre fans may need a description like this one: “Snowpiercer is a fascinating blend of Terry Gilliam, George Miller, and John McTiernan that takes place entirely on an unstoppable train that’s been running for about 17 years even though the planet Earth is an uninhabitable, frozen wasteland.”

I’ll simply call it one of the coolest action/sci-fi/social satire concoctions that I’ve seen in a very long time.

Snowpiercer 1

Visually arresting, tonally unpredictable, subtextually juicy, and “popcorn-friendly” fun at the same time, Snowpiercer is about the very last revolution of the human race. The setting is a “perpetual motion” train that (obviously) never stops running, the players are the upper-class oppressors and the lower-class serfs, and the conflict is a sprawling horizontal trek full of secrets, revelations, surprises, and a whole lot of carnage.

Based on the French novel Le Transperceneige (and adapted for the screen by the director and co-writer Kelly Masterson), Snowpiercer works as a simple but effective parable regarding the haves and have-nots, and Bong Joon-ho seems to take great delight in painting his snooty villains in garishly Gilliamesque brush-strokes. Those who simply want a novel science fiction concept will find endless things to enjoy about this film, little touches and ideas as well as the overall “train at the end of the world” premise.

Snowpiercer 2

And plain old cineastes will delight in the film’s rousing score, lovely cinematography, creative special effects, and an editorial style that not only allows some surprises to play out, but also gives the attentive viewer some “aha!” moments to think about once the film is over. Lead actor Chris Evans underplays his normal superheroics and manages to create one quietly compelling hero with simple charisma and intensity, and Tilda Swinton is wonderfully hateful as the woman who represents everything that’s wrong with the “class” system found inside this train universe.

From its excellently eclectic ensemble (which also includes Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Ewen Bremner, Ed Harris, Alison Pill, and Song Kang Ho) to its expeditious pace and its frequently audacious (even shocking) enthusiasm for sci-fi tropes we all know and love, Snowpiercer is a fantastic achievement: a novel, passionate, and energized sci-fi film we’ll still be gushing about ten years from now.

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Scott Weinberg
Writer. Movie critic. Producer. Semi-actor. Wise-ass. Film advocate. Horror geek. Cat fan. Twitter junkie. Follow me at @scotteweinberg.