Society of the Snow (2023, dir. J.A. Bayona)

by | Jan 4, 2024

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 143 mins

UK Distributor: Netflix

UK Release Date: 4 January 2024

WHO’S IN SOCIETY OF THE SNOW?

Enzo Vogrincic Roldán, Matías Recalt, Agustín Pardella, Felipe González Otaño, Luciano Chatton, Valentino Alonso, Francisco Romero, Agustín Berruti, Andy Pruss, Simón Hempe, Juan Caruso, Esteban Bigliardi, Rocco Posca, Esteban Kukuriczka, Rafael Federman, Agustín Della Corte, Tomas Wolf, Diego Vegezzi, Fernando Contigiani García, Benjamín Segura, Santiago Vaca Narvaja, Paula Baldini, Federico Aznarez, Alfonsina Carrocio, Silvia Giselle Pereyra, Virginia Kaufmann, Felipe Ramusio, Blas Polidori, Emanuel Parga, Iair Said, Louta, Carlos “Carlitos” Páez

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

J.A. Bayona (director, writer), Nicolás Casariego, Jaime Marques and Bernat Vilaplana (writers), Belén Atienza and Sandra Hermida (producers), Michael Giacchino (composer), Pedro Luque (cinematographer), Andrés Gil and Jaume Martí (editors)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

After a plane crash in the Andes mountains, the survivors take drastic measures to stay alive…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON SOCIETY OF THE SNOW?

While Netflix has yet to join the ranks of fellow streamer Apple and nab itself a Best Picture Oscar, they’ve definitely come close over the last few years, with contenders like The Power of the Dog and last year’s German-language contender All Quiet on the Western Front all putting up a decent fight, and even coming out of it with one or two Oscars of its own. The service finds itself in a similar position this year, though luck is not as much on its side as it had previously been, with its biggest contenders being Maestro, an otherwise solid film which has been somewhat unfairly scrutinised on social media for being stereotypical Oscar bait, and the new survival drama Society of the Snow, which isn’t likely to score many nominations, let alone one for Best Picture.

However, in a lot of ways, director J.A. Bayona’s film is pretty powerful stuff that’s at least worthy of a mention in the crowded conversation, for it is a devastating yet hopeful look at the power of the human spirit, especially when placed in the most hopeless of conditions.

The film is a recreation of the infamous incident in October 1972, when a plane bound for Chile from Uruguay suddenly crash-lands in the middle of the Andes mountains, instantly killing several of the forty-five passengers onboard, many of whom belong to a team of young rugby players, and leaving the handful of survivors trapped in the bitterly cold snowy landscape. As the freezing conditions threaten to doom the remaining passengers to a frozen grave, especially after waiting for a rescue that never comes, some drastic measures are taken in order for them to keep living – including, perhaps most famously, a spot of cannibalism – and some heroic expeditions are made to find help in some possible way.

It’s an incident that’s served as inspiration for other films in the past, most notably Frank Marshall’s more Hollywood-ised version Alive that starred Ethan Hawke, Josh Hamilton and John Malkovich in prominent roles, but Society of the Snow has zero desire for watering it down for wider audiences. For one, the film takes an approach not unlike Paul Greengrass’ United 93, where the cast is predominantly made up of Uruguayan and Argentine actors with nary a previous credit to their name. As it did in United 93, the lack of a recognisable figure among the cast is a major benefit, as it allows the viewer to really absorb the emotional impact of the increasingly bleak scenario, without getting distracted by any star wattage. Bayona, who co-wrote the script with Nicolás Casariego, Jaime Marques and Bernat Vilaplana, is also able to cut right to the chase with some of these real-life characters, and dig deep into what made them human in this harsh and unforgiving climate, which makes many of the later emotional moments all the more impactful, something that might have been lost if it they were played by more recognisable actors.

The filmmaking here is sweeping and sometimes unsettling, as we often glide over and across the snow-blanketed domain which points out just how seemingly endless this landscape is, while some disorienting close-up shots of people in distress emphasise the growing psychological trauma as they face their own morality as they chew into their former friends and acquaintances. At times, it gives off the vibe of a horror film (which is apt, since Bayona first became known for the 2007 supernatural chiller The Orphanage), especially as the cinematography, editing, make-up effects and Michael Giacchino’s foreboding score all homing in on the horrifying sense of death that lingers even in the quietest of moments, putting you right in the middle of it all with an impeccable ease.

As bleak as Society of the Snow can get, though, it ultimately finds bright spots of optimism to keep a close eye on, especially as these survivors refuse to let imminent death stand in the way of their indomitable spirit. Even if you already know how this particular story ends, Bayona still keeps the momentum going with a triumphant march towards a bittersweet conclusion, one that is genuinely emotional and pays profound respect to those who survived and those who were lost along the way. Ultimately, it is a film that celebrates just how unwavering we can be as a deeply flawed species, for even when trapped in the middle of nowhere there is always a sense of hope that something can be done to escape from it, and Bayona’s film powerfully captures that spirit as it depicts these survivors as real people forced into unspeakable circumstances, which makes it a somewhat uplifting film to watch, even after all the grisly cannibalism.

While it might be tough for some viewers to stomach, which is probably why it’s not truly in the Oscar conversation as much as Netflix may like, Society of the Snow is impressive stuff that should invigorate your human spirit in ways you might not have expected.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Society of the Snow is a harrowing but ultimately uplifting recreation of the infamous 1972 Andes plane crash, which filmmaker J.A. Bayona injects with bleak realism and a strong focus on the survivors’ humanity.

Four of of five stars

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