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Society of the Snow

Updated: Jan 21

J. A. Bayona's powerful new film SOCIETY OF THE SNOW is an elevated take on a film many of us remember from the early 90's, "Alive".

That Frank Marshall film was a sensationalized take on the "rugby team crashes in the Andes and resorts to cannibal tactics to survive" thriller.

Well, yes.

But Bayona's take is much more human, dramatic and a thousand times more emotionally wired as a result.

Knowing this is a true story only adds to the power of this telling. We briefly meet all the early twenty-something members of a rugby team that charters a large twin prop plane to cross the Andes into Santiago, Chile.

I've flown into Santiago and the size and scale of that mountain range are jaw dropping as you approach the city. Intimidating doesn't quite cover it.

Bayona and his creative team stage the plane crash with an eye to realism. It's bone crushing, limb twisting madness as the plane breaks in half and friends fly away in seconds.

The core survivors begin to emerge. It's fascinating that before the crash, the team members are introduced so quickly, in overlapping groups, all chatting at once, that it's hard to distinguish one from another.

Post crash and in full survival mode, distinct personalities emerge.

Enzo Vogrinic is a standout as our narrator, Numa. He takes charge immediately after the crash, helps the survivors triage and start the basics of their quest for survival.

Leading a talented cast of Uruguayan and Argentinean actors, Vogrinic becomes the moral compass of the survivors.

Bayona unwinds the tale at a pace that makes you live through the long months they were stranded in the middle of the Andes.

There are moments of humor and terror but all feel reel.

An avalanche out of nowhere is as scary as the Tsunami that Bayona staged in his terrific 2012 film, "The Impossible". Walls of snow pound down on the wreckage and the weak survivors, leaving them drowning in snow.

When food resources run out and the nearly twenty people are forced to consider eating their dead loved ones and friends to survive, you find yourself almost holding your breath on when and if they will do so.

Bayona handles it graphically, but with taste (?) showing what's happening but only in glances, not with any intent focus to shock or disturb.

The last 30 minutes of the film are especially powerful, detailing parts of the story that weren't part of Marshall's "Alive". They give the film much more weight.

Michael Giacchino's music score is one of his most quiet, leaving the soaring bombast of many of his great scores behind and finding a reserved, respectful tone that's a perfect fit for the material.

As the survivors die after the unbelievable amount of time they've been stranded, each passing hits you hard, their name showing up on screen to add to the list.

Over the film's credits, you see photos of the real people and the actors that portrayed them in the film, along with side by side photos of events. Bayona's commitment to detail in both casting and production design really comes to life in those comparisons.

This is a powerful film, rising above its most sensationalist aspects to become a historical drama for the ages. Sure to win this year's Academy Award for best Foreign film, SOCIETY OF THE SNOW gets an A.

Subtitles or dubbed, now on Netflix after a limited theatrical run.

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