Society of the Snow (dir. J.A. Bayona)
By: Adam Freed
Mother Nature has at times a sadistic way of reducing her constituency to its lowest possible form. The tests presented by nature are unlike anything of human creation, as they betray no splinter of mercy, no fragment of forgiveness. In October of 1972 Uruguayan Flight 571 carrying The Old Christians Rugby Club famously crash landed in the South American Andes Mountains, instantly killing many on board. For those who survived, what lay before them was a physically and emotionally crippling gauntlet for survival and the grim agonies required in its pursuit. With his newest Netflix film Society of the Snow, Spanish director J.A. Bayona captures the daunting South American survivalist story with a modicum of brutal success.
If the story rings cinematically familiar, Frank Marshall’s Alive (1993) covered nearly identical ground three decades ago, yet Marshall’s portrayal never allowed itself to reach the unforgettable lengths of grizzled carnage on display in the year’s first Netflix original. Not for the faint of heart, Bayona’s tale of alpine agony sets off a domino effect of realities and realizations one after another. For each of the surviving Uruguayan athletes, the epiphany that it is the fortunate who perished in the crash, comes as a heavy handed test of faith. Faced with the wrath of subzero temperatures, threat of avalanche, and all but certain starvation, even the most optimistic of dreamers feels the weight of unending despair. This is the gauntlet that for almost two hours J.A. Bayona asks audiences to walk without an enticing glimmer of salvation. It should therefore be no surprise that the visceral marathon of this request will certainly burn out a large portion of his audience prior to reaching the film’s worthy climax.
Despite the advanced level of demoralization audiences are asked to endure in the process, Society of the Snow seems to have unearthed a superstar cinematographer in Pedro Luque. Luque’s masterful rendering of the Chilean Andes oscillates between a foreboding starlit splendor and the snowblind endlessness of the peaks themselves. It is a treat to witness truly inspired naturalist cinematography, faithfully capturing the devastating irony of the murderous beauty of the film’s surroundings. Despite the commendable visual nature through which the film’s vastness is conveyed, Society of the Snow is ultimately betrayed by a precariously thin story that finds itself echoing in redundancy. There is only so much anguish that audiences can be asked to stomach without a hint of relief. Yes, this is an excruciating exercise in witnessing man’s battle against nature, but Bayona’s battle lacks balance. There is plenty to be gained in experiencing the new year’s most excruciating film, but let it come with fair warning that optimistic warmth rarely comes nestled high in the jagged peaks of the Andes.
Target Score: 6.5/10 - Society of the Snow captures the true to life story of a Uruguayan Rugby Club that crash lands in the Andes Mountains. For those that survive the initial trauma, a demoralizing battle for survival ensues, testing characters and audiences alike. The majestic nature with which the film’s epic scope is captured, is credited to the monumental achievement of Uruguayan Cinematographer, and breakout star Pedro Luque.