Society of the Snow (2023)

January 7th, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: J A Bayona | With: Enzo Vogrincic, Agustin Pardella, Matias Recalt, Esteban Bigliardi | Spain, Thriller 144′

The crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 in the Andes mountains in the South American springtime of October 13 has been told many times before and certainly makes for compulsive viewing in J A Bayona’s horrifying version of the tragedy. Society of the Snow is Spain’s Oscar hopeful but perhaps Piers Paul Read’s 1974 book ‘Alive’ is still the most emotionally impactful retelling, leaving the visual impact of the events to our imagination. Bayona bases his version on a more personal account from Uruguayan written Pablo Vierci who grew up with some of the victims. 

From the warm comfort of our own viewing experience, how can we possibly imagine what it really felt like when the Uruguayan Old Christians Club rugby union team were forced to cope in sub zero temperatures after the plane carrying them to a match in Chile was sliced in half by the mountains. Sixteen passengers survived the initial crash and the event hit international headlines. Wearing scanty clothing and with no equipment whatsoever the victims made it through the initial days. But after the search was called off they were forced into an unconscionably grim 72-day fight for survival forcing them into cannibalism. Of the forty five original passengers, only sixteen would make it back home. 

This is not an involving, character driven film but one that launches from a brief introduction to the team into collective trauma, reflecting their common goal to survive. Bayona opts for sensationalism staying true to his roots in horror, working with mostly newcomers. There are no leads just an amorphous central casting. The film ostensibly deals with isolation, suffering and survival, but on a much deeper level the victims were forced to acknowledge the true impact of their plight. Their Catholic faith was test to the limit, not by praying in a Church, but on a bare mountainside through unselfish acts of human sacrifice. Desperately hungry, most ate their dead companions consoling themselves in the belief that this was the true meaning of Holy Communion. In this enforced team-building situation, the men are put to the test and forced to face the ultimate truth:  who are, and how do we relate to one another when everything is stripped away in a snowbound wilderness

Narrated by Numa Turcatti (Enzo Vogrincic), who joined the trip at the last minute, the film is a lasting testament to all those who died, naming them individually in inter-titles as they die. Proving once again that truth is often more incredible than fiction, the nightmarish events the survivors are forced to endure really beggar belief: endless blizzards, an avalanche that traps them with their friends’ dead bodies for several days. Technically Society is faultless in Pedro Luque’s spectacular cinematography but there are longueurs and issues with pacing in a screenplay that involves four writer.s  Society of the Snow feels overlong at over two and a half hours. So in conclusion more of a last tribute to those that died than a moving engaging experience. My advice is stick to the book. @MeredithTaylor 


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