EIFF Review: Snowpiercer

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Joon-ho Bong (director)
Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Kamg-ho Song, Ah-sung Ko
Running time

Imagine you’re having an epic surreal dream set on an epic and surreal train journey. Dreams as we know are full of disjointed fragmented scenes which only make sense within the dream and somehow add up to a coherent whole. Even if the basic premise is as linear as a railway track, each individual segment or in this case each train compartment is completely different from the rest and often quite insane. Then you wake up and think ‘what the hell was that?’.

This is the Snowpiercer experience, a South Korean dystopian sci fi blockbuster. Visually arresting, strangely compelling and for all its flaws is magnificent in scale and oddness. It all works in spite of itself, a giant genre mash up of everything from Mad Max to Brazil with sprinklings of Kubrick references and some of Wes Anderson quirkiness. Don’t worry though, if that doesn't sound like your cup of tea there’s also plenty of good old fashioned bone crunching bullet spraying violence and decent visual effects.

Set in the near future, a failed attempt by scientists to save the planet from environmental catastrophe results in a global ice age wiping out humanity (yes that old chestnut). ‘Luckily’ a mad and rich engineer had the foresight to see what was coming and builds Snowpiercer, a technological Noah’s Ark on wheels. Basically its a very large and very long train accommodating the remaining fragments of society. It perpetually circumnavigates the Earth year after year, its movement powering life support systems and a self-sustaining ecosystem.

There’s only one little snag. For it to work, what remains of society must be divided up into traditional class systems. Individuals must fulfill pre-determined functions and roles. A queen bee must have worker drones. There must be law and order. You can see where this is going right?

Led by Captain America himself Chris Evans leads the oppressed peasants revolt for a better life leading his motley crew from the back of the train to the front on an epic odyssey to discover what’s really behind their way of life. The denouement, the final revelation is predictable but its the journey there, once its finally underway that is thrilling and thrillingly odd.

Amidst all the chaos and strangeness there are two really standout aspects - one is Tilda Swinton, semi-recognisable in make up, thick reading glasses - she’s a delightfully silly hybrid of a dotty old Yorkshire gran and a ruthless Gestapo like leader. Her performance both sinister and hilarious elevates the trip. The other is an impressive battle scene between two warring factions and its what happens half way through the sequence when someone remembers what time of year it is that had my mouth slightly open and my eyes wide and unblinking.

Snowpiercer appears to have some pretensions to both being a metaphor about the journey of life and how modern society functions. That its exploitative, ruthless, murderous and mad yet peppered with moments of compassion and beauty. Yup, got it thanks - don’t need it spelled out for me at the end with some long winded exposition, I can look out my own carriage window. But for all its flaws, lack of logic and occasional rough edges this particular train journey is a lot of fun.

Sunday 22nd June 8.20pm Cineworld
Saturday 28th June 8.15pm Cineworld