Snowpiercer had tongues wagging since its premiere in South Korea last August. This violent, dystopian future flick is set in a frozen world in which the remnants of humanity 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 the front. If anyone in the rear steps out of line, they get punished (punishments are predictably grisly).
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. Vive la révolution!
From there, it’s 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, obstacle-course challenges, buckets of bloody action, a creepy performance from Tilda Swinton, and a ruthless villain waiting at the end (Ed Harris). But instead of fitting a crowd-pleasing mold, writer-director Bong Joon-ho shocks us over and over, delivering an exhilerating (albeit very grim) thrill ride filled with trists and revelations.
The film is heavy and never lets up. How grand a victory can really be won? The world outside is frozen to unlivable temperatures. No matter what happens, everyone is still stuck on this fucking train. 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, and you suspect there’s a kernel of hope waiting like a light at the end of this dark tunnel. There’s a strong socialist worker’s vibe going on and everything’s gray. Funny moments are peppered between shock killings. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll love this movie.
This not-so-little-engine-that-could was shot in 35 mm, so it’s already drawing attention from film snobs. That said, many Americans will have to hunt for a showing — it’s not a Melissa McCarthy comedy that every small-town cinema will carry, and those living outside metro areas won’t find it. Go see Snowpiercer if you can, and do something happy afterwards.