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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Society Of The Snow' Review: J. A. Bayona's Survival Drama Pits Humanity Against Hopelessness

A group of men looking at the sky, next to a plane wreck, in front of a snowy mountain

You know, it's particularly rewarding on some days to be someone who doesn't eat meat as you're not taking your work or consumed art to the dinner table later. Survival drama Society Of The Snow (La sociedad de la nieve in Spanish), one of the more clunkier titles of this year, underlines that notion with full force, taking on the real-life story of Andes flight disaster in 1972, which left 33 people fighting for their lives in the cold, snowy, icy mountains. Adapted from Pablo Vierci's nonfiction book of the same name, the film's large cast includes Enzo Vogrincic (as Numa Turcatti), Agustín Pardella (Nando Parrado), Matías Recalt (Roberto Canessa), Esteban Bigliardi (Javier Methol), Diego Vegezzi (Marcelo Pérez del Castillo), Fernando Contigiani García (Arturo Nogueira), Esteban Kukuriczka (Fito Strauch), Francisco Romero (Daniel Fernández Strauch), Tomás Wolf (Gustavo Zerbino) and Agustín Della Corte (Tintín Vizintín).

The story as it exists already obviously lends itself to a thrilling and possibly moving treatment that works well on the big screen, this time also featuring realism in terms of language and a framework that doesn't veer into sensationalism like a TV series inspired by this story might decide to do. A major driving force to bringing the film's themes of desperation, resilience and sacrifice to life is the craftsmanship, which certainly takes you on a journey and a half along the way. Visual effects (supervised by Felix Bergés and Laura Pedro), special effects (supervised by Pau Costa) and Alain Bainée's production design combine to create striking and terrifying scenes, not only stopping with the initial crash but also then using snow and ice to make everything a struggle in a way that traps you, the viewer, along with these characters.

You can also track the situation escalating from the terrific makeup designs (by Ana López-Puigcerver)—there's really detailed work with corpses, skin tones, wounds and even lips, which you don't often see quite like this—as well as complementary hairstyling (designed by Belén López-Puigcerver). It's always impressive when closeups can trust the work that's been done and that you could understand the story even if the movie was on mute.

Speaking of being up-close, there also lie the flaws of ''Society'' because whereas the crafts manage to create effective building blocks to the movie's central dilemma, that being man-versus-nature, director-writer J. A. Bayona doesn't quite conquer that mountain. His work here is rather passive and unremarkable, which directly affects performances as well. Bayona uses Vogrincic's Numa as a narrator but it is a narrow perspective with a poor payoff, we don't really have a clue of the crew's successes or missteps in terms of survival—you could say that we're supposed to only know the surroundings as well as them but what's with the drone shots then?—and all of the actors are giving the same exact performance. Sure, that means that one of the director's notes got through but it also means that we can't differentiate the characters and no actor stands out.

Bayona and co-writers Bernat Vilaplana, Jaime Marques and Nicolás Casariego are able to respectfully mine dramatic tension for most of the runtime by seemingly following the events from beat to beat, although their script also doesn't flesh out the characters beyond their names; we don't have to do a metaphor about meat and bones here but you'll catch my drift surely. Hence the film is never exhilarating though it is eventful enough and it's not a tearjerker either but there are some moving moments eventually. That is also because it doesn't overly moralise the tragic scene, it just puts one foot in front of the other until the river's flow takes over.

Smileys: Makeup, SFX, VFX

Frowneys: Directing, characterisation

We live or die in a society.


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