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Thoughts on Netflix’s “Society of the Snow”

A screen grab of the Old Christian Rugby team huddled together in the plane wreckage to keep warm.

Cooper Hatsis
Paw: OPINION: Movie review: “Society of the Snow”
Inside: Thoughts on Netflix’s “Society of the Snow”

“Society of the Snow” was released to Netflix on Dec. 22 and has gained a largely positive reception from critics. It is an unexpected candidate for Best International Feature at this year’s coming Academy Awards, who will announce their nominations on Jan. 23.

“Society of the Snow” tells the story of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 which crashed into the side of the Andes Mountains on Oct. 13, 1972.

The aircraft was transporting an Old Christian Rugby team from Uruguay as well as many friends and family of the team. The team was headed to Santiago, Chile for a rugby game. The plane consisted of 40 passengers and five crew members. The passengers that survived the initial crash were forced to survive on the top of the snowy mountains for 72 days.

The new film from B.A. Bayona is not the first time that this story has been adapted into a film. Aside from a handful of documentaries covering the event, the most notable feature is 1993’s “Alive” from director Frank Marshall, starring a young Ethan Hawke.

The two films are obviously quite similar as they are both about the same incident, but the biggest difference is that “Alive” features an all-American and English speaking cast. Even now, “Alive” feels like a very marketable way to sell this story to American audiences at the time.

Thirty years later, this fresh take on the story features an all-Spanish speaking cast and with the help of modern day filmmaking technology, “Society of the Snow” can attempt to tell this story with the hope and pain that runs through the tale.

“Society of the Snow” wastes no time getting the characters onto the side of the mountain. Within the first 20 minutes, the horrific crash has happened and the characters are stranded. During this stretch of the film, it can be difficult to navigate who the many characters are and what their role will be within the story. The characters’ personalities and roles only become present once they have spent some time in the Andes. This feels like a very conscious choice to show the ways people might show their true selves in times of crisis.

The film makes an effort to honor anyone who died during the accident and events that followed via text on screen that reads the person’s name and age. While this tribute is appreciated, the film fails to create any audience connection with these names during the earlier points in the film. The crash scene is scary and intense, but it is hard to connect with any of the characters stuck in the situation as we do not know who any of them are.

The film’s emotional beats rely heavily on narration from character Numa Turcatti (Enzo Vogrincic) which makes for an interesting choice considering a twist that the film plays during the last hour. Despite this, the film does not have a true lead even with the narration from Numa.

“Society of the Snow” features breathtaking shots of mountainsides that, while very pretty, do enforce a feeling of isolation for the group of survivors. The environment is the villain here and will not let the characters have a moment of hope with the occasional storm or avalanche.

To counter the large landscapes around the plane crash, Bayona constantly uses close up shots of the characters’ faces that make for a feeling of claustrophobia, especially during the initial crash sequence.

Bayona brings a lot of moral questions to the film that previous adaptations touch on but don’t delve into the way “Society of the Snow” has.

While “Alive” enforces more religious undertones to the film, “Society of the Snow” doesn’t avoid but instead challenges those tones with the experiences that the survivors are having.

There is an argument to be made that this creative decision makes for a more satisfying ending once those stranded are rescued, but there is also an argument to be made that it makes for a far more difficult watch.

While maybe not for everyone, “Society of the Snow ” is one of the most powerful films to have been released in 2023 and pays respects to those involved in Flight 571 in ways that previous adaptations have not.

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Cooper Hatsis, Culture reporter

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