In “Snowpiercer,” the lone survivors of a post-apocalyptic world-freeze are confined to one train that circles the globe on a nonstop hell ride, depending on where you’re sitting.
For 17 years, front and rear passengers have been segregated. Folks at the rear are fed maroon-ish, gelatinous protein blocks, they’re crammed into living spaces on par with “Amistad” and they’re brutalized by guards at the tiniest sign of defiance.
Within the first five minutes, an elderly woman eats the butt of a rifle when her hubby refuses to play violinist for front passengers unless she comes with.
Pretty rough to watch, but it set the tone.
Curtis (Chris Evans) plots an uprising with his young No. 2 Edgar (Jamie Bell) and sage old-timer Gilliam (John Hurt), who’s missing a limb or two.
He has an informant who plants tips in protein blocks. He counts the men guarding the train gates and clocks the number of seconds all doors are open at once. And the crux of his plan: Get to the engine and kill Wilford, the train’s “leader,” aka a conductor with a god complex.
“All past revolutions have failed because they couldn’t take the engine,” Curtis says, and I was in.
Superb pacing as the throwdown clocks in at less than 30 minutes, and I was screaming and cheering from my couch. Curtis and friends battle their way through each train subsection: the kitchen, the water car and beyond. And with each section cleared, Curtis was like Mario to Wilford’s King Koopa.
What hooked me the most was the subtext and mythology of this story.
In one scene, Curtis and gang are in a barbarian-style battle with axes. Blood spatter and slow-mo, then a horn sounds and a strange ceasefire. All look out the window, note the landmark and the guards start counting down from 10 in a weird celebration.
My insides screamed: “Kick some A–!” but nothing.
Through just enough dialogue it’s revealed the landmark notes a full year of survival. And as the train rips through ice caps on the tracks, the good guys and the bad guys are thrown around the same car. A lot different than an LOTR battle royale because regardless the side they’re fighting on, all are on the same playing field. All are apocalypse survivors, and all could die if the train derails.
This moment was like nothing I’d ever seen or read or experienced in pop culture. My mind was blown.
And “Snowpiercer” continued to do this. It’s dense and fully loaded, but that works to its glorious advantage. And screenwriter/director Bong Joo-Ho works the graphic novel this was based off succinctly and expertly. (I’m getting into gush mode.)
And while “Snowpiercer” is harsh at times, Joo-Ho works in just the right amount of comic relief.
The Curtis crew swoons over the smell of second hand smoke, when cigs had been extinct for a decade. Tilda Swinton as a commissioner for the front delivers quirky bits, like removing her dentures during a verbal face-off with Curtis, and grotesque throat-clearing and nose-crinkling as she speaks on soon-to-be unleashed mayhem.
My only hang-up with this is some of the effects were executed a bit poorly.
When we see what the protein blocks are made of, the computerized imagery looks pretty elementary along with outer shots of the train trudging on the tracks. There’s also a slow-mo snowflake moment, but you’ll hafta watch it to see.
But this all didn’t deter. “Snowpiercer” culminates with a jarring convo between Curtis and Wilford, and it ends with the perfect last shot on-screen.
And performances were on.
Chris Evans may be the quintessential superhero, even in ratty garb, and he gets a chance to wax dramatic and broken, and bravo. Jamie Bell is the perfect spunky sidekick with a Scottish (?) accent, and I felt protective over him like a little brother. And the actor who plays Wilford is dashing and wonderfully apathetic and pragmatic. (IMDB it, or better yet, watch it.)
There are cult-like happenings, spot-on suspense and no love triangles like other dystopian movies of today. I was glued to my screen and rewinding parts.
Watch this movie.
Available: Amazon Prime (to rent), iTunes (to rent), Netflix Instant.