Society of the Snow Turns Its Real-Life Survival Story Into an Immersive Thriller
Strap yourself in for an intense ride.
Some situations are so horrifying that it’s impossible to imagine what it’d be like to actually find yourself in them. That’s one of the most powerful things a movie can do, though. If done correctly, cinema can show you what it’d be like to be trapped in even the most unusual and difficult of circumstances.
That’s exactly what Society of the Snow does. The new, J.A. Bayona-directed film throws you into the middle of an infamous real-life event and makes you follow its characters as they all struggle to survive through it. The Spanish-language drama bears more than a few similarities to Bayona’s acclaimed 2012 film, The Impossible, and yet it manages to achieve an even more impressive level of cinematic immersion.
Now, following its limited theatrical release in December, Spain’s Oscar contender is officially available to stream on Netflix.
Co-written by Bayona, Society of the Snow dramatizes the real-life story of the 1972 Andes Flight Disaster, a plane crash that resulted in the deaths of most of the passengers onboard and left its survivors stranded for months in the snow-covered Andes mountains. The film details the events of the story (which partly inspired Showtime’s Yellowjackets) in excruciating detail. It forces viewers to sit with its characters as they fight for their lives — even as more and more of their fellow passengers perish due to the inhospitable conditions of their mountainside crash site.
Society of the Snow, notably, isn’t the first film that has attempted to adapt its story for the big screen. Frank Marshall’s Alive famously tackled the same subject matter in 1993. However, while that film isn’t a complete misfire, it isn’t nearly as immersive or introspective as Society of the Snow. Bayona’s film, his first feature effort since 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, is an astonishing technical achievement that successfully breaks through whatever barriers might have prevented viewers from getting completely caught up in its difficult, death-defying story.
Bayona fills Society of the Snow with close-ups that place you in close proximity to its characters — forcing you to constantly see the bruises and hunger apparent on their tired faces — and wide shots that make the lifelessness of their ice-cold purgatory unavoidably clear. Visually, the director finds the right balance between intimacy and spectacle, character and environment. The same is true for the film’s jaw-dropping crash sequence, which explosively caps off its truncated first act.
Throughout the set piece, Bayona constantly cuts between aerial, VFX-laden shots that reveal the full scope of the plane’s destruction and interior moments that emphasize the physical toll that the crash takes on its human passengers. He makes you feel his characters’ shared pain as their seats come loose and they crash into each other, and a few well-timed shots of bones breaking both pack a sickening collective punch and effectively punctuate the exhilarating, terrifying sequence.
Behind the camera, Bayona brings the same technical craftsmanship to Society of the Snow that he has throughout his entire career, regardless of whether he was directing The Impossible, Fallen Kingdom, or the first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. He makes the crunching of snow, the howling of mountain winds, and the creaking of broken plane parts constant presences in Society of the Snow, and they just further immerse you in its isolated, desolate world.
These details all come together in a thriller that is so visceral that watching it may very well be the closest most people will ever come to experiencing its central disaster themselves. That may not seem like the most appealing thing to every viewer, and Society of the Snow’s story isn’t an easy one. However, those who do engage with it may come out of it with a broadened perception of not only the world but also the resiliency of the human spirit.