VOD film review: Snowpiercer
Ivan Radford | On 23, Oct 2018
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Cast: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Song Kang-ho, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer
Watch Snowpiercer online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / BFI Player
“You wouldn’t wear a shoe on your head!” declares Tilda Swinton’s Mason halfway through Snowpiercer, a film where such absurd statements take on a strange kind of logic. No, you reason. Of course you wouldn’t wear a shoe on your head. The fact that all this is taking place inside a non-stop train hurtling around a future Earth that has entered an endless ice age is beside the point.
The train is the Snowpiercer of the title, a gargantuan metallic monster powered by a perpetual motion machine. The frozen apocalypse is a result of a botched attempt to reverse global warming, leaving a tiny percentage of the human population huddled together on the armoured locomotive. The shoe-head analogy? That’s to keep everyone in this shell of a society in their right place: the rich people at the front, and the poor people at the back. Not so different, then, to the trains we have now.
That’s the brilliance of Bong Joon-ho’s remarkable sci-fi thriller: it’s an insanely ambitious piece of blockbusting, but, at its heart, it’s a tale as old as time, where the beauty of civilisation is ravaged by the beast of inequality. If that social commentary doesn’t sound like anything new from a dystopia, you’re on the wrong track: this is The Hunger Games on wheels, High-Rise on rails, and just like Ben Wheatley’s prescient, disturbing and darkly funny oddity, the timeless satire is painfully topical in Brexit Britain. While the film was originally never released in the UK when it was made back in 2013, the fact that it has trickled onto VOD in 2018 only makes it feel all the more relevant.
Based on the French graphic novels Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, Bong Joon-ho crafts something both graphic and novel, relishing the chance to flex his muscles across this dystopian expanse. His production design team pull off some remarkable feats, as they build a train set that feels nothing like a toy, each carriage having its own distinct feel and increasingly dangerous threat. Bong shoots them with gorgeously stylish visuals, taking us from the garish primary colours of a propaganda-spouting school to the hidden massacre of a room plunged into darkness by a seemingly interminable tunnel.
The cast are clearly up to it, from Jamie Bell’s earnest Edgar to John Hurt’s wizened veteran, Gillian, who’s been around the circuit before. Watch out, too, for Octavia Spencer as the ruthless Tanya, and The Host’s Kang-ho Song as Namgoong, another old-timer who brings a tragic note to the carnage. Tilda Swinton is wonderfully weird as Mason, the conductor of the train doing her damnedest to keep the steam rolling – part TV celebrity, part bully, she’s a vibrant, unnerving and bonkers presence that could only ever make sense in this bizarre world. (A sequence in which she and Alison Pill’s teacher lead a cheerful singsong about the death promised to rebels is hysterically chilling.) At the movie’s heart is Chris Evans as Curtis, the reluctant leader of the uprising that quickly erupts during a feeding session, and his heartfelt conviction in their cause, and cautious smarts about what they might uncover, fuels the whole movie; before he became Captain America, this was proof that he was born to be a Hollywood hero.
The pace doesn’t let up, rushing headlong up the train with a constant sense of surprise and an ominous sense of inevitability – whether it’s the quiet tension of looking out at the blinding wasteland or the bloody nastiness of hooded men chopping people to bits with axes and night vision goggles. The result is laugh-out-loud fun, violently horrific and impossibly entertaining – a season ticket to sinister mayhem that never goes out of date and a ride will you’ll want to go on again and again, no matter what you’ve got on your head.
Snowpiercer is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.