After a global warming experiment that causes an ice age that kills nearly everyone on the planet, Earth’s only survivors live on a constantly moving train called Snowpiercer that circles the globe on a perpetual-motion engine. 17 years after moving into Snowpiercer, humans are separated by classes and divided up by the poorest at the back of the train and the richest near the front with everyone else in between. Sick of being treated poorly by their leader Wilford (Ed Harris), Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) decides to lead a resistance to attempt to take control of the train.
Grimy, pulpy and violent, Snowpiercer manages to be a unique and exciting take on the post-apocalyptic thriller with excellent direction, music and performances. It’s amazing what Bong Joon-ho was able to do with limited locations, as he creates a world that is unlike anything seen in the genre in some time. Instead of seeing the few survivors truck through a decimated city, it’s refreshing to see a take on the end of the world that eliminates the world, leaving us with a deep and interesting class-based society taking place strictly indoors.
Each class is clearly separated and while it’s not overbearing, it’s obvious enough to keep the audience interested and not confused. Curtis and his group of lower-class rebels are depicted as disgusting, dirty, human trash. It’s easy to cheer on these anti-heroes against the obviously self-indulgent upper-class. The set design and overall visual look in the film changes and matures throughout, clearly depicting each class and it’s a wonderful sight to be seen.
Snowpiercer is very much a hard drama and action film, yet shines when the film is most like a silly graphic novel. When it embraces its bizarre moments, it plays almost like a dark comedy. The film can easily snap right back into disturbing and serious content though, and has no problem finding a balance between the silly and serious.
The multicultural cast is brilliant as Joon-ho does a great job mixing popular Hollywood stars like Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and John Hurt in with some lesser known Korean talent (at least to the regular North American filmgoer) such as Go Ah-sung and Song Kang-ho. There is even some brilliant futuristic tech that pokes fun at the need of translation/subtitles between the two cultures. Cool tech aside, each cast member (English speaking or not) is very solid and does a great job adding depth to people that could have easily been very one-note.
The pacing is great with an end-to-end journey that is satisfying and exciting. It’s action sequences are hard-hitting and the film has just the right amount of weirdness to not turn anyone off. While it’s harrowing throughout, it’s still immensely beautiful with wonderful cinematography and a great score. It’s ambitious and has a lot more to say than your average blockbuster.