Society of the Snow Review – A real survival story told with brutal realism

By Lori Meek
Published: January 4, 2024 (Last updated: 3 weeks ago)
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Society of the Snow Review
Society of the Snow | Image via Netflix
3.5

Summary

A visually striking and often graphic depiction of an outstanding tale of survival. What it lacks in character development, it makes up for in compelling imagery.

Director J.A. Bayona’s Oscar contender, Society of the Snow, premiered on Netflix after making quite the impression in the festival circuit. This isn’t the first film to recount the harrowing tale of survival that took place in 1972 (see 1992’s Alive), but what sets this Netflix production apart is its commitment to the hyper-realistic portrayal of the events and the involvement of actual survivors. One of the real-life survivors, Carlitos Páez, even appears in the film as his character’s father. 

The film is based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Pablo Vierci and centers on the 72 days a group of survivors spent in the snow-covered mountains after their charter crashed. It’s a visually compelling and hard-to-watch title that doesn’t shy away from depicting the cannibalism the group had to resort to so they could ensure survival. 

The movie starts by introducing some of the passengers of the doomed chartered Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 a few days before their fateful crash. In October 1972, several rugby players of the Old Christians Club team along with some friends and family members board the charter flight to Chile to play a match and enjoy a well-deserved long weekend away. 

Among them are Roberto Canessa (Matías Recalt), Fernando ‘Nando’ Parrado (Agustín Pardella), Numa Turcatti (Enzo Vogrincic), and Adolfo ‘Fito’ Strauch (Esteban Kukuriczka). As the group prepares to land at their destination, the plane crashes into the snow-covered Andes mountain. The survivors are left injured, terrified, and at the mercy of an unforgiving terrain not fit for life. As the days go by, hopes of being rescued dwindle, and the remaining survivors make increasingly difficult decisions to stay alive, including eating the frozen flesh of their fallen friends and family. 

This elevated survival tale features some brutal realism and particularly difficult-to-sit-through imagery. When the plane crashes into the glacier, the film shows bodies being smashed complete with sound effects of bones being crushed. Visually, Society of the Snow takes viewers back to the snow-covered peaks of the Andes, where a group of young people had to do the impossible to stay alive for a spine-chilling 72 days. 

Striking imagery yet not enough character development

However, as compelling as the visuals are, J.A. Bayona’s decision to treat the group of survivors as a collective played by a mostly unknown ensemble takes away from the story’s impact. Aside from Numa, who acts as the narrator and the de facto protagonist, the film isn’t interested in showing us who these people are as individuals or what internal fire drove them to survive when so many of their friends didn’t. 

Bayona makes a point out of naming the victims on screen but falls short of treating his characters like the unique individuals they are. We see very little of their lives before the crash and less so of the aftermath of their rescue. It’s almost like watching a very well-produced documentary, where there’s an emotional disconnect between the audience and the action portrayed on-screen. 

It’s hard to imagine the ordeal the passengers of Flight 571 went through during those long months they spent stuck in a glacier, but the film just about retells their ordeal with striking and terrifying realism. 

What did you think of Society of the Snow? Comment below.


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