Snowpiercer has had tongues wagging since its premiere in South Korea last August, and there’s a reason why — it is a well-made, violent, intelligent dystopian-future flick. After the world outside has frozen to unlivable temperatures, the remnants of the human race live on an enormous train. The tail end is home to lowlives in slums, with little food and clothing, working for the wealthy people in front. If anyone in the rear steps out of line, they get punished.
One brawny, blue-eyed lowlife (Chris Evans) has had enough. He wants to make it to the front, tip the scale, and control the engine.
From there, it’s the oldest story in the world — a gory, weird, steampunk hero’s journey literally from one end of the train to the other. Outside, the ghostly remnants of ships and cities pass by, covered in ice.
The film is built with solid elements: an easy-to-grasp destination (it took me years to get a physical sense of the journey from the Shire to Mordor), obstacle-course challenges, buckets of bloody action, a creepy performance from Tilda Swinton, and a ruthless villain waiting at the end. But instead of fitting a crowd-pleasing mold, writer-director Bong Joon-ho shocks us over and over, delivering a vicious (albeit painfully grim) thrill ride.
It is miserably grim, and never really lets up. How grand a victory can really be won by anyone? The world outside is frozen to unlivable temperatures. No matter what happens, everyone is still stuck on this fucking train, right? Midway through, as your favorite characters get pecked off, you have to commit. And you do because the film’s essence is the proletariat struggle, the poor and the angry demanding justice — la revolución.
This not-so-little-engine-that-could is a smart offering in our current milieu. Shot in 35 mm, it’s already drawing attention from film snobs. That said, many Americans will have to hunt for the movie — it’s not a Melissa McCarthy comedy that every small-town cinema will carry, and those living outside cities won’t find it. Go see Snowpiercer if you can.