Snowpiercer is the first English-language film by Joon-ho Bong (director of The Host, and Mother, in his native Korean) and it is based on Le Transperceneige, a French graphic novel by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette.
The idea is simple: an attempt at bringing down global temperatures in the aftermath of global warming goes horribly wrong and the planet freezes over. The only people who survive are the ones aboard The Snowpiercer, a train that never stops running, and goes around the planet once a year.
As in any such situation involving humans, hierarchies develop, and people are segregated according to class from the head to the tail of this behemoth that is in constant motion.
For the purpose of this narrative we are placed among the tail-dwellers where two young men, Curtis (Chris Evans) and Edgar (Jamie Bell) are helping to lead a revolution that will allow them to gain access to the engine, and thus gain control of the train. Before they can get through to the front though they will require the services of an individual named Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song) because he designed the locks that separate the various sections—and thus the various groups of people—from each other.
Parts of Snowpiercer reminded me The Matrix and other parts reminded me of Old Boy and The Raid, and in my book those are all good things. I am always a little skeptical about movies set in single locations because limitations enforced by the location always rear their ugly heads, but the level of imagination on display in this movie quickly puts that concern to rest.
For a dystopian movie about class-based segregation this movie features a fair bit of B-movie violence and the sound design, camera work, and editing come together really nicely to deliver that satisfaction that good movies bring.
Mr. Evans and Mr. Bell are very effective, with the former in particular managing a decent amount of gravitas as the reluctant leader. William Hurt sports a fascinating look as Gilliam, as does Tilda Swinton as Mason, the emissary of the mysterious Mr. Wilford (Ed Harris) who built the train and the tracks it runs on.
There is a certain inevitability built into narratives like this, and Snowpiercer doesn’t bring something brand new to the table. But it did make me think, and for that I was glad.
Final Analysis: This is dark cinema, which is not without its flaws, but it is beautiful to look at, and an experience worth having.
My Advice: Seek out Snowpiercer, turn down the lights, and don’t allow yourself to be disturbed while the beast trundles on. Afterwards take a good look at the world around you and think about what you’d do differently.