DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
Snowpiercer is a film that manages to stay on track for most of its bloated running time, only to steam ahead towards an inevitable derailment.
Right, now that I've got all the train related puns out of the way, let's talk about this wonderful mess of a film.
As ridiculous as the premise is, Joon-ho Bong's film is fiercely dedicated to it. It starts of with a grimy, disgusting view of life in the tail end of the train that holds the last of humanity. We quickly meet the archetypes required for a story like this. The reluctant hero, the old wise man, the young dog, they're all there. But the way we are introduced to them is where the strength of especially the first two acts lies. We are thrown on this train without information, smack dab in the middle of events that have been brewing for a long time and are about to come into fruition. Gradually, as the plot stumbles on, we are given more and more information, always just enough to keep us satisfied but still hungry for more.
It works. Mainly because of the basic nature of the story. The people in the back of the train want to get to the front and to achieve that they need to open doors to get to a new compartment of the train. Each door represents a new challenge, each compartment new information. It works because of its simplicity and because the surprises and twists each opening of a door brings are practically all either interesting or rewarding. Another thing that happens with each progression is a tonal shift towards the truly bizarre. We get snippets of this when we still mainly reside in the filthy back of the train, but its gets increasingly weird as we move along.
This tonal shift proves to be both a blessing and a curse. It gives us a chance to snigger at the bizarre nature of it all, providing for some great entertainment, spurred on by a seemingly possessed Tilda Swinton who was absolutely hilarious. But the (purposefully?) stark contrast it creates with the more sinister and very serious tone of other main elements in the plot actually detracts from the possibility for some truly shocking drama. And that's a shame as there is some potentially stirring stuff there.
There is also a fairly large amount of static in the script. Some useless trope injections that add absolutely nothing and some unnecessary repetition and character arcs, make it feel like a long haul towards the end. And that end, the very final reveal, is fine. And fine is not really what it felt like it was leading up to. The ending slowly deflates everything that went before it, again dampening any possible shock or impact on its audience. The fact that it loses so much steam (ba dum tish) towards the end is a shame as I really feel it should have gone all out and stuck to the weird vibe that preceeded it.
The interior of the train and the production design of it is absolutely fantastic. But this film is intent on being messy, so as a contrast we get some absolutely horrid CGI, straight from the bargain bin. Everything else looks great though and Joon-ho Bong really creates some fantastic scenes and set pieces, of which a huge fight in the centre of the train is a stand out. He also manages to get a strong performance out of Evans. I've seen Song Kang-ho in a couple of other films and he really has a great screen presence, making him a welcome addition to this cast.
Snowpiercer's messy nature will not sit well with many people, but I really feel the good outweighs the bad here, leaving an entertaining piece of off kilter sci-fi that is worthy of your time.