Movie #33 2020: Snowpiercer (2013)

Like many, I opted to watch this movie after jumping on the Bong Joon Ho bandwagon. Other than Okja, this was his only movie on Netflix UK (and has since moved to Amazon Prime Video), and I noticed more and more people giving this one a go after the absolute juggernaut that is Parasite.

Stylistically, Snowpiercer is completely different to Bong’s other works. Yet there are some hidden similarities that tie his body of work together.

Like many of his other movies, Snowpiercer has the running theme of our society’s class divide. The movie is set in a not too distant future where the world has completely frozen over. Any human survivors now live their lives on a train that is constantly moving through snow and ice, yet just like the outside world, they are divided dependant on their wealth and social class.

The most striking thing I noticed while watching this is that while Parasite seems very vertical, Snowpiercer is very horizontal. Rich people at the front, poor people at the rear. (In Parasite, the poor family live below, whilst the rich family live in a house on a hill, which is higher yet due to the house being accessed by an upward flight of stairs). These motifs work so well in a way that I can’t actually pinpoint. It’s almost like Bong creates a visual “map” of sorts, to aid the viewer’s understanding of the story. It is very unique and innovative, and one of the most striking positives that I took away from this movie.

The underrated MVP amongst this all-star cast is Octavia Spencer. She gives a powerfully moving and hard-hitting performance, yet some of the lines she delivers are so incredibly funny that she brings a lightness to it at the same time. For instance, there’s a sequence where the “lower class” are given food, and she cracks an egg on a kid’s head. It seems ad-libbed, actually; a sliver of Spencer’s personality coming through in a movie which could be downright depressing without her presence.

There was one character however that just didn’t sit right for me within the walls of this feature. As a long term fan of the quirky madness of Tilda Swinton, it is just unfortunate that she plays the character I’m referring to. The movie as a whole has such a serious tone to it that the way she plays her character is just too comedic for me. The tone changes completely when she enters the room and becomes more of a comedy performer at a time when she is supposed to be hated. I fear that she based this characterisation on the likes of Margaret Thatcher in that she creates almost a caricature out of the role she’s given. That’s probably what she intended, in all honesty, but for me it just disjointed the movie slightly.

Snowpiercer as a whole is a movie that was entertaining enough, but it’s not something I’ve recommended to anyone since. For me, this is the movie that Bong Joon Ho used as “practice” on his way to the perfection of Parasite. Parts of this were almost sending me to sleep, whereas his most recent venture was gripping from start to finish.

In sum: at least he got there in the end.

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