What is the human race capable of when thrust into overwhelmingly adverse survival conditions? A prime display of such a situation came in the aftermath of a failed flight from Montevideo, Uruguay to Santiago, Chile in October 1972. The flight in question, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, carried 40 passengers, 19 of whom were members of the Old Christians Rugby Club, with the others consisting of the team’s friends and family. On Oct. 13, 1972, the flight met an unexpected and fatal end, as the aircraft collided violently with the Andes mountains. In the subsequent 72 days, those remaining after the crash braved the harsh, uncaring cold of the Andes in hopes of survival. Their story has been the subject of multiple film adaptations, first in 1976 with “Survive!,” followed more notably by “Alive” in 1993. However, Spanish film director J.A. Bayona dares to present the most faithful representation of the historical tale put to screen in his latest survival thriller “Society of the Snow.”
Released on Jan. 4 as a Netflix exclusive, “La Sociedad de la Nieve” draws abundant inspiration from Pablo Vierci’s 2008 novel of the same name, which heavily relies on firsthand accounts from the accident’s 16 remaining survivors. Thus, Bayona’s adaptation supplies itself with ample means to accurately convey the perilous experiences of the stranded passengers. Much of the film’s looming sense of grim, isolating chaos comes from its string of finely-tuned technical decisions. Case in point: Pedro Luque’s cinematography excels in capturing the intended chilling tone and atmosphere. Luque’s work effectively thrusts audiences from Montevideo’s alluringly vibrant scenery to the Andes’ bleak stretches of snow, maximizing immersion in the protagonists’ tumultuous journey. Bayona’s decision to shoot most of the movie in the Sierra Nevada instead of a typical film set further adds to the feeling of being dropped into an unwelcoming landscape with slim chances of survival. In addition, the makeup and costume design greatly aid in visually communicating the severity of the situation through the deterioration of the characters’ physical appearances.
The simplicity of the storytelling on display in “Society of the Snow” is one of its most admirable features. Staying faithful to the events as told by the survivors, the film confidently takes little interest in manipulating the truth for heightened dramatic purposes, which seems common among similar Hollywood adaptations. This consistent commitment to authenticity results in a documentary-like style that does not concern itself with unnecessary theatrics or needless spectacle. That is not to say the film is devoid of its fair share of high-intensity moments, including the intentionally anxiety-inducing plane crash sequence near the start. These moments appear sparingly, however, and avoid exploitative sensationalism.
A similar degree of discipline is exercised in regard to the dialogue between characters and the portrayal of the characters themselves. For the most part, neither the writing nor the performances come across as overly cinematic, partly due to the palpable chemistry among the set of young actors. Consequently, viewers feel as though they are watching what would naturally unfold when a group of young friends are faced with the difficult decisions that arise throughout the film. Further, these challenges, including the debate over whether to resort to cannibalism for nourishment, are treated with a delicate maturity that invites the audience to arrive at their own conclusions regarding the moral dilemmas brought to light.
Unflinchingly miserable and dour at points, “Society of the Snow” ultimately prevails as an awe-inspiring retelling of the infamous Andes flight disaster. Bayona along with his talented cast and crew managed to mold this larger-than-life tale into an intimate experience that fully immerses viewers in both the tragedies and the beauties of the incident. In doing so, the film succeeds in either introducing or refamiliarizing modern audiences with the gripping story in a genuinely heartfelt, authentic manner.