Snowpiercer (2014) Review
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Screenwriter: Bong Joon Ho, Kelly Masterson
Starring: Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Ah-sung Ko, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Tilda Swinton
Bong Joon Ho’s Euro-Korean-American sci-fi thriller was excellent for one reason above all else: originality. This post-apocalyptic thriller never took audiences for granted, opposed the archetypal constructs of the genre, and was overall an incredibly gripping and often moving modestly-budgeted blockbuster.
The thing with Snowpiercer is that it has all of the typical constructs of your summer spectacle-led movies. It has a star attraction, an ensemble cast, and some really awesome CGI, for example. Producers of the film even considered leaving large parts of the film on the cutting room floor in order to “appeal to the masses”. Oh, how thankful we should be that they didn’t.
Bong Joon Ho, the writer-director of famed international success Gwoemul (or The Host to English speaking audiences), has put together one of the more thought-provoking movies of the genre in recent years. Snowpiercer should be considered in the same echelon as the likes of Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 and Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin as one of the most original sci-fi movies this century.
The choice to centre the post-apocalyptic piece around issues of class was something that leans this movie away from the reductive terminology of the “blockbuster” and more towards the “art” side of the industry-art spectrum of cinema. This, together with its excellent use of score and its focused narrative, present an array of questions regarding the boundaries of humanity and the state of the world we currently live in. In essence, Snowpiercer ticks all of the sci-fi boxes it needs to in order to be appreciated. But, more than that, it ticks the boxes that are opposing the dominant ideas of the contemporary landscape of filmmaking.
Snowpiercer is centred around an American white guy, sure, but it is no mistake that he is the only representative of this culture in the “lower classes” of the Snowpiercer’s titular train. Furthermore, it is of no mistake that the vast majority (if not all) of the “upper classes” are white, and predominantly male. What Bong Joon Ho has done, in essence, is take the transnational nature of the film’s production and has used it to offer a piece that confronts societal norms regarding more than just class, but also race and sex too, all the while wrapping the gritty and dark tale in pieces of photography that elevate in levels of drama and beauty as well as intensity as the film goes on.
While the CGI isn’t quite as up to scratch as the majority of mainstream blockbusters these days, Snowpiercer still feels authentic through its use of fantastic work by cinematographer Hong Gyeong-Pyo and the performances of its actors, not least Chris Evans. The Captain America star begins in the broody and somewhat typical Chris Evans mantra, undergoing a transformation as the narrative progresses and really drawing you in when needed – he well and truly pulls it out of the bag and the best he has ever been. With fantastic support from an array of critically acclaimed talent, the story is told the right way by the performers and the production crew, making for an enticing evening’s viewing.