A Sci-Fi Honey Review - by Katie

Snowpiercer (2014)

We are halfway through 2014 and, rather surprisingly, it has so far been a banner year for science fiction films.  From The Machine to Godzilla and Edge of Tomorrow, and looking ahead to Interstellar and Dawn of Planet of the Apes, there are plenty of offerings that feature awe-inspiring monsters, imaginative worlds, and heroes worth rooting for.  This weekend we have two more entries in the genre making their way to cineplexes across the nation, and this review will focus on the worthier of the two (sorry, Michael Bay, you can go nosedive, Scrooge McDuck-like, into your cartoonishly large money vault).  Opening in select cities this weekend, Snowpiercer is not only a triumph for the genre; it is also an outstanding entry in contention for the year’s overall best films.  From director Joon-ho Bong, whose 2006 film The Host elevated the monster movie to a smarter and funnier plane, Snowpiercer is a revelation in nearly every sense, and a refreshing break from the monotony of mediocre summer slop.

Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Snowpiercer takes us in time nearly twenty years from now, when the Earth has frozen over into a bleak and frigidly inhospitable land, and all of humankind resides on a solitary train powered by an “eternal engine.”  Circumnavigating the globe via a single railway, the train houses all the people and worldly goods necessary to sustain basic survival for those on board.  Over the years the train has evolved into a symbolic class system; our heroes, led by a schlubbier-looking Captain America (Chris Evans), have been relegated to the proletariat tail end of the train.  Visits from the healthy and wealthy residing in the front end of the train are only required when delivering food (in the form of god-awful looking “protein bars”) or snatching up children to send on mysterious and sinister meetings with the train’s conductor, Wilford (Ed Harris), never to be seen or heard from again.  Understandably, the Proles get restless and impatient with being told to mind their place through fear, intimidation, and control over their food and water supply.  If only they could somehow make their way to the front of the train, meet this Wilford character, and set things right so that all passengers get equal treatment…

It looks perfectly roomy in there; I don't know what they're complaining about.
It’s a nice thought, but it takes a hell of a lot to get to the front, as we soon discover.  The train itself stands as the film’s central character, and is just as fleshed out as the human subjects of the story.  Barreling along an icy track and plowing through glacial mountain barriers, the train hurdles humanity around an endless loop of birth, drudgery, and death.  Like leveling-up in a video game, each train car confounds our heroes with another challenge to overcome in their journey to the front.  I found myself holding my breath with fear and anticipation over what would be on the other side of each door, as every compartment holds a stranger, more alarming, and more depraved truth than the last.  There’s a nightmarish City of Lost Children vibe embedded in the film’s set design, contributing to the surreal nature of this vision of the future.  Major praise goes to the film’s cinematographer and production designer, who manage to pack frenzied action and inspired set pieces into the most claustrophobic and limiting of spaces. 

Welcome to the Ninja Car. Prepare to be Ninja-ed.
The proletariat uprising commences with merely the refusal to sit down when told to do so, an unforgivable act of dissent.  The throwing of a shoe is referred to as “size 10 chaos”; any attempt to challenge the status quo is met with disastrous consequences.  I call our heroes “Proles” because I was very much reminded of George Orwell’s definitive dystopian tale 1984, the film version of which also starred John Hurt (thankfully also devoid of any chest-bursting in this movie).  As the enforcer keeping everyone in check, Tilda Swinton’s character gives Big Brother-esque speeches on remaining dutiful to the social order: “you belong in the tail.  So it is.”  Swinton is genius in this role, eliciting both tremendous amounts of laugher and horrified gasps from not only what she says and does, but how she does it.  Rounding out a cast as worldly and diverse as each car on the train, Bong populates Snowpiercer with actors from the U.K. (Swinton, Hurt, Jamie Bell, Ewen Bremner), North America (Evans, Harris, Octavia Spencer, Alison Pill), and his native South Korea (The Host’s Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko).  It’s a varied assortment of cultures, accents, and languages spoken without subtitles; to paraphrase one character, the train has become a stand-in for the whole world, and all aboard humanity.  The struggle is how to band together to fight for the right to survival, no matter who they were before the train and who they’ve become after.

Just don't hit Tilda with a shoe, or shit will go down.

Some of the best lines of the film are unfit for print since they threaten to give away too much of what’s revealed later in the story, but be prepared for some unsettling surprises that expose both tragic flaws in our heroes and a basic misunderstanding of our villains.  With each turn around the bend, and in each compartment careening down the track, Snowpiercer never fails to astound, shock, or delight – and ticks all the boxes on what a truly great film can accomplish.  If you’re seeking a chilling reprieve from the sweltering summer heat this weekend, don’t give Michael Bay any more ammunition for his ever-expanding ego; instead, seek out Snowpiercer, the most visionary and exciting sci-fi film so far this year.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Five thrown shoes out of five.  Be the shoe... so it is.

Is Snowpiercer playing in a theatre near you?  Click here to find out!