Netflix film review: Society of the Snow
Matthew Turner | On 09, Sep 2023
Director: JA Bayona
Cast: Enzo Vogrincic Roldán, Agustín Pardella, Matías Recalt, Tomas Wolf, Esteban Kukuriczka
Society of the Snow premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival. It will be released on Netflix at an unconfirmed date later this year.
Directed by JA Bayona, who has form for based-on-a-true-story survival thrillers after 2012’s The Impossible, Society of the Snow is an account of the 1972 Andes plane disaster, in which members of a Uruguayan rugby team crash-landed in the Andes and were stranded for 71 days, without hope of rescue. Chosen as the Closing Night Film of the 2023 Venice Film Festival, it’s a superbly made and powerfully moving thriller that represents another hit for Netflix, which produced the film.
Technically, the film is also a remake, since the story was also filmed 30 years ago in 1993’s Alive, starring Ethan Hawke. Like its American-made predecessor, Society of the Snow is likely to gain instant notoriety for its utterly terrifying plane crash sequence, which Bayona films with intensely visceral impact, the sound design ensuring that you feel every crunch of bone.
Based on Pablo Vierci’s book The Snow Society: The Definitive Account of the World’s Greatest Survival Story, which documents accounts of all the survivors of the crash, the script introduces us to several of the real-life characters involved, with Numa Turcatti (Enzo Vogrincic Roldán, who looks a lot like Adam Driver) serving as narrator. Throughout the film, captions appear on screen, informing us of various things, from the number of days that have passed to narrative details (eg “4 days buried”, after a horrific storm that traps them all under the snow) to the names of the dead – a quietly devastating effect.
Bayona directs with a strong sense of pace, or more accurately of the passage of time, as the survivors are forced into desperate measures to survive. The grim details of those measures are well known – they’re the direct inspiration for Yellowjackets, for example – which allows Bayona to indulge in a bit of blackly comic foreshadowing, when he has a character pick off and eat a scab, or showing the survivors tucking into a meal of boots and cigarettes, before resigning themselves to the inevitable.
The dialogue (in Spanish throughout) is superb, and English-speaking viewers can rest assured that the translators have done a terrific job, as evidenced by a terrific scene where the survivors go round in a circle, coming up with rhymes to pass the time. The meaning of the sentences are identical in both versions, and the translators have cleverly made the English rhymes work too.
A superbly written move-you-to-tears speech of some sort is more or less a given in a film like this, but Society of Snow has several of them, every one of which could well show up as an Oscar clip for Best Adapted Screenplay. One particular speech is delivered by Fernando Contigiani García as Arturo, a touching and thoughtful monologue about belief in God.
Throughout the film, Bayona orchestrates a number of stand-out sequences, from the aforementioned plane crash scene (which will definitely make you reconsider any imminent flight plans – not a good thing if you’re at an international film festival) to the equally terrifying snow storm sequence and a splendidly timed bit of business involving the fixing of a radio that delivers near simultaneous highs and lows.
The performances, by Uruguayan and Argentine actors – most of whom are newcomers – are excellent, with Roldan and Esteban Kukuriczka (as Fito, perhaps the most resourceful of the group) the stand-outs. On a final note, the film looks stunning throughout, courtesy of Pedro Luque’s striking, snowy landscape cinematograpy and some excellent location work that includes the real-life crash site, alongside Sierra Nevada in Spain and Montevideo in Uruguay. There’s a suitably moving score by Michael Giacchino too.