Going in:

I generally enjoy post-apocalyptic scenarios. It’s an intensely interesting thought exercise to think how humanity would have to adapt to survive different scenarios, and how civilization would shake out after such a hard reset.

After seeing the trailer, I immediately wanted to see Snowpiercer. It sounded like it had similar themes to Hugh Howey’s Wool series that I’d recently been reading.


The film unveils a post-apocalyptic future where an attempt to reverse global warming swings the pendulum so far in the opposite direction the the Earth is frozen-over.  The only humans to survive are aboard a giant “perpetual engine” train – the Snowpiercer – that circles the globe once per year, the lifetime project of an eccentric industrial baron.  The self-contained ecosystem is maintained over decades by separating the occupants into different class strata:  the elite living the good life at the front of the train, with the tail section offering nothing more than a cramped and impoverished existence.  The film follows a reluctant tail section leader (Chris Evans) as he executes a violent rebellion against the front, finding out how the other sections live and the truth about their existence as they progress.

Too often in cinema, science fiction is treated as a degenerate step child.  Even big-budget screen adaptations of great printed stories are dumbed down and turned into action-focused computer graphics spectacles (Minority Report?). Most of what we get is low-grade sci-fi in one or more ways: low budget, low talent, low-brow, low polish.  Snowpiercer defies the status quo, however. This is one of those rare occasions when everything comes together.

Snowpiercer is a striking combination of eastern and western film styles. Originally based on a French graphic novel, it was adapted and directed for the silver screen by Korean director Joon-ho Bong, who collaborated with a Hollywood cast. It is surreal in concept and story, with a visual aesthetic surely inspired by Terry Gilliam. (One of the supporting characters is even named “Gilliam”.)  The bleak darkness and well-choreographed action sequences have that unique feel to them that I’ve only seen under Korean direction.

The cast is very strong, featuring Chris Evans and Song Kang-ho, plus a number of A-list character actors like John Hurt, Ed Harris, and Tilda Swinton.  I worried that Evans was out of his league, playing opposite of so many heavy hitters and given his history of comedies and superhero movies.  He nailed it, and I’ll be interested to see what else he gets involved in now that he’s shown the depth and seriousness he’s capable of. (When he’s in between Marvel movies of course).

If I’m honest, we’ve seen similar themes before:  post-apocalyptic plot, class warfare, existential crises, civilization vs survival, control vs chaos.  If you’ve watched or read stories in a similar vein, there won’t be any new territory to tread upon. But the narrative and overall package is so good that it demands to be experienced.

Sadly, this film had a lot of problems getting this onto the American screen. The director butted heads with the Weinstein Company by refusing to make significant cuts out of the running time. This put it into distribution hell, which is why this excellent film ended up with a limited US release. Luckily, it went to video-on-demand immediately so we would not be deprived of it.


Snowpiercer is one of the best sci-fi movies in the last decade. It’s a unique, surreal, and satisfying take on the post-apocalyptic sub-genre. My wife even thought it was great, and she generally avoids sci-fi.

Snowpiercer Review
See this uncommonly-good science fiction film before the real apocalypse happens
The Good
  • Sci-fi this well-done doesn't come around often
  • Features a knockout cast
  • Great combination of brains and blood
The Bad/Ugly
  • Requires a mind open to the surreal to appreciate
  • Could have had a Hurt sandwich by swapping William Hurt for Ed Harris
8.1Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)

About The Author


I'm a video game programmer, just like Chev Chelios. I've loved movies all of my life, favor substance over style, and try to have high standards and an open mind.

  • http://mastercritic.com/ Tim

    Without spoiling anything, I’ve heard people vary wildly on their interpretation of the ending. Did you find it hopeful or hopeless? I’m in the hopeful camp.

    • Justin

      I decided to not talk about the ending in my review because I couldn’t do it without spoilers. But I’ll say this: a Canadian MasterCritic fan who saw Snowpiercer before I did said that it had a very “European” ending. I translated this as: “Existence is meaningless, so nothing matters – you’ll want to join your local nihilist Meetup group.”

      I couldn’t disagree more with that assessment of the ending. I’m hopeful for the future of the Snowpiercer’s inhabitants.

  • Justin

    UPDATE! (November 6, 2014) — I noticed that Snowpiercer is now available on Netflix streaming. No more excuses for not seeing this movie!