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‘Society of the Snow’ Movie Review

Apr 4, 2024 | Admit One

Tell everyone what we did in the mountains.”

These are the closing words of Bayona’s 2023 masterpiece: Society of the Snow, a retelling of the Andes flight disaster, one of the most widely discussed survival stories of all time.

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Release Date: 12/15/2023
Director: J. A. Bayona
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
IMDb: 7.8/10
Where to Watch: Netflix

In 1972, forty-five passengers of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, en route to Chile, crashed in the Andes mountains. Thirty-three survived, stranded on a barren, high-altitude slope. With nothing but the plane’s wreckage for shelter from the cold, the survivors held out until rescue arrived.

Although most are likely familiar with this story, which has been retold across films, books, and even stage productions, it is worth recounting here the sheer number of hellish obstacles the mountains threw at the ill-fated survivors:

First, a crash sheered the right wing and tail cone from the aircraft, sending the fuselage careening into a rock outcropping, tearing off the left wing, and its propeller slicing through the passenger section. The remains slid 2,379 feet down a glacier at 220 miles per hour, ramming headfirst into a snow bank that crumpled the nose and detached all seats, compacting passengers and bulkhead together. This sequence of events is recreated in visceral detail in one of the most horrific moments of the film.

Survivors pulled themselves and injured passengers from the wreckage. Five more died after the crash. When night set in, the survivors—most without cold-weather clothing—had to endure sub-zero temperatures in the fuselage, huddling together for warmth. On their eleventh day on the mountain, a portable radio delivered the news that search-and-rescue efforts had been called off. They were on their own.

Each of these sequences is recreated with such attention to detail that viewers may forget they’re watching a dramatic recreation and not actual footage

The filmmaking techniques used here bring you so uncomfortably close to characters that you feel yourself freezing on the mountain alongside them. Many exterior scenes were shot at the actual location of the crash, imbuing the film with a sense of realism and eerie beauty that never could’ve been achieved entirely on a soundstage.

When recovered food supplies dwindled on the seventeenth day, the group had to make a difficult decision. Starve… or utilize the only source of nourishment available: the frozen bodies of the deceased. Every passenger was Roman Catholic, making this decision more difficult. This anguish is portrayed in detail, including the many ways in which each tried to rationalize their consumption of the dead against their faith.

On their seventeenth day on the mountain, an avalanche struck the fuselage, killing eight more people and flooding the shelter with snow. When they finally dug their way out a day later, they were greeted with a blizzard of such ferocity that the snow-filled fuselage remained their best option and they crawled back inside. Events would proceed like this for another fifty-five days before three survivors undertook an arduous trek across thirty-four miles of mountain to secure their rescue.

Every sequence in this film, from quiet moments between characters to beautiful cinematography displaying the insignificance of the survivors against the backdrop of an unforgiving Nature, elevates this experience beyond what audiences have come to expect from survival films into something transcendent and deeply spiritual.

This is easily one of the greatest achievements of Bayona’s career, immortalizing real-life events through a grounded—yet highly poetic—work of cinema that honors not only the survivors… but the deceased as well. It is one of the greatest and most viscerally real survival stories ever told.


About our Admit One Author

Isaac Albert Frankel

Isaac Frankel is a freelance writer and content creator specializing in reviews and analysis of cinema, interactive media, and mythological storytelling. He was raised in Prescott, AZ, wrote his first non-fiction book in 2013 after graduating from Tribeca Flashpoint College with a degree in Game & Interactive Media Design, and currently produces content for the YouTube channel: Off Screen.

More of his work and current projects can be found at www.isaacafrankel.com.