Dystopian sci-fi movies usually go out of their way to show you their dangerous, often catastrophic visions of the future. Part of the reason why films like Blade Runner and Mad Max: Fury Road are acclaimed is because of how detailed and well-realized their respective futures are, and while a movie like Children of Men presents viewers with a much more familiar world than most sci-fi movies do, it still feels lived-in, real, and big.
Due to their futuristic premises, not many dystopian films choose to keep their scope small or their locations limited. But that’s what makes this 2014 film so unique and powerful: It keeps its story confined to one location (in this case, a train), and yet still manages to create a vision of the future that feels sprawling, detailed, and uncomfortably real.
The film is director Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, and it’s streaming now on Netflix through January 1, 2022. Here’s why Inverse recommends you make some time for it before it leaves the streaming service.
Based on a French graphic novel, Snowpiercer is set in the year 2032, nearly two decades after humanity failed to stop global warming and instead created a new ice age. The film takes place on a self-sustaining train that constantly circles the planet without ever stopping. The train houses the human survivors who live in its various cars.
Snowpiercer focuses on Curtis (Chris Evans), who lives in the back of the train where resources are scarce and the compartment’s inhabitants are treated like second-class citizens. The film follows him as he leads a band of rebels in the hopes of establishing a new, more equal society throughout the train. The battle, unfortunately, turns out to be far more costly and soul-killing than Curtis or anyone else assumes it will.
Indeed, as Curtis and his compatriots make their way through each successive train car, they’re presented with new challenges, horrors, and depressing discoveries than they could have ever seen coming. One sequence in a school classroom, in particular, proves to be more unnerving and terrifying than you’d think — and only further emphasizes how injustice is maintained when the promotion of idolatry and misinformation is prioritized above everything else.
Snowpiercer was so popular that it spawned a TV series adaptation that premiered in 2020. But while the show has its own merits, nothing quite matches the savagery, tension, and dark humor of the original 2014 film. Like most of Bong Joon-ho’s movies, it’s both thematically thought-provoking and undeniably entertaining, which makes it uniquely accessible in spite of its nihilistic view of humanity and society at large.
And make no mistake: Snowpiercer is one of the most cynical sci-fi films of the 21st century so far. It’s a razor-toothed takedown of modern societal structures and the way inequality is reinforced and maintained by those in power. It also just happens to be one of the most thrilling and genuinely unpredictable dystopian films you’ll probably ever see.
Every twist and turn the film takes feels surprising and inevitable at the same time. That’s especially true in its game-changing final act, which redefines everything we thought we knew about its story, while simultaneously bringing Curtis’ whole journey painfully, bone-crushingly full-circle.
Snowpiercer leaves Netflix on January 1, 2022.