Snowpiercer (2014) (R)
There are a lot of things that "Snowpiercer" gets right simply as a thriller and an action movie. It is keenly aware of itself and even takes the time to mock its own predictability and with this takes a step towards the unexpected...I would hazard to say that Bong Joon-ho escapes a lot of the cliches that we thought were coming as he descends into the bloodbath of the movie's second half. "Snowpiercer" also solves the 'haunted house' problem that "Alien" did. You eliminate the possibility of just leaving when everything outside your setting is death. voila!
Set in the early years of 2031, we are told by the beginning credits that global warming became such a huge issue that a highly controversial method of conservation was put into operation: release a gas known as CW7 into the air, the scientists of the day assumed that it would cool the Earth's temperature down....and it does, but to a degree that is inhospitably for human life.
Thus the Snowpiercer was built, a train that circumnavigates the entire world in a year and is self-sustaining. This steam-punk setting gives the greenscreen plenty of appearance and more often than not, this is plainly visible to the viewer. This movie didn't have the budget for convincing visual effects and I would argue that it really doesn't need them.
So we have a nastier version of "Titanic" with "Snowpiercer", simply on the thought of "lower deck" vs "upper deck". The caboose of the train houses the renegades and the lower class-people. They are served a gelatinous "protein bar" for food and they are planning a revolution.
Curtis (Chris Evans) is the rebel of the lot, the one who wants to barrel through the closing gates and make his way to the front car where he can confront the elusive and mysterious, god-like Wilford who made the train. We aren't really sure why he wants to do this, but it would make sense that he naively assumes that his actions will bring equality to the passengers of "Snowpiercer".
There is a great injustice to the train and my mind is cast back to every other dystopian movie made, because in this sense, "Snowpiercer" has no great originality.
The tension between the rich socialites and the poor vagrants is so high even though neither have seen each other's face. It's the sheer resentment by the system.
Yet the people on the "Snowpiercer", who have been aboard the train for almost eighteen years, act as if their civilization is being built up from scratch and the audience is forcibly led through many unnecessary hoops. We understand the setting as soon as we see it, it's post-apocalyptic-meets-1984. Got it! No, apparently Bong Joon-ho doesn't think we do because his script forces us to hear again and again about how (insert noun) is the last of its kind in (insert years). We get it, resources are being depleted for the last train folks. It's not hard to comprehend.
There is a general type figure named Mason (Tilda Swinton) who comes and gives commands/deals out punishments to the last train people. She is the preacher of the train, the one who tells the people of the "sacred engine" and how it will always run and how it is perfect and how Wilford is a deity. This childlike wonder directed at the train itself is a little hard to choke down just for sheer stupidity's sake. I mean, this train is operating in 2031, are we assuming that no real intelligence survived the great freeze?
Curtis and cohort Edgar (Jamie Bell) start to form the blueprints for a coup and they are in need of the information bullets that arrive in the protein bars, given to them by an engineer in prison, who claims that he knows how the train's gates work. His help is essential for the Curtis and his fellow rebels because they will only get so far before a simple steel wall blocks them off.
The complexities of the characters are reduced to stereotypes to fill out, most obviously seen by Tanya (Octavia Spencer) as the sassy black woman who is actually stronger than we assume. Even the repentant hero Curtis is just one long cliche, but somehow that's okay.
The action of the movie relies on shaky camera and quick edits to make sure that the littlest amount of true blood and gore is seen by viewer's eyes. This too works by itself.
But then...there's the curiosities. We are thrown the oddest of visual cues and the most random of scene climaxes that make literally no sense and the defensive critic might chalk this up to "Asian cinema influence" but what I see is just giant plot holes and ridiculous extravagance of genre.
Now this being said, "Snowpiercer" is surprising and I'll go ahead and say worth a watch for the culmination of the story, because it never loses its intrigue, even if some moments are both eye-rolling and head-scratcing.
Filled with an incredible cast, though no stellar performances, "Snowpiercer" is an interesting turn on a long beaten history of work. It's religious and social commentary are the movie's weaker points, watch the movie for the third act.
Posted by Micah Jones