Skip to main content

Society of the Snow review: Alive gets a dreary Netflix makeover

Enzo Vogrincic Roldán sits in the snow in a still from Society of the Snow
Society of the Snow
“Shouldn’t a true story of life, death, and cannibalism be a little more gripping?”
Pros
  • A gripping true story
  • An intense crash sequence
  • It's better than Alive
Cons
  • Interchangeable characters
  • Monotonous storytelling
  • It's not much better than Alive

In October 1972, a plane chartered by an amateur Uruguayan rugby team went down in the mountains south of Chile. Some of the passengers died in the crash, others in the weeks that followed — succumbing to their injuries or the cold or starvation. Those who lived to be improbably rescued did so because they made the unspeakable but necessary choice to consume the dead. Is what happened to them a tragedy or a miracle, asks the opening voice-over of Society of the Snow. The real question raised by this Netflix survival drama is: Shouldn’t a true story of life, death, and cannibalism be a little more gripping?

This is actually the second film to depict the so-called Andes flight disaster. Released in 1993, Alive reshaped a British bestseller about the incident into a Hollywood ode to the human spirit, with American actors delivering dialogue in English and a hokey sentimentalism at odds with the grim subject matter. (Ickier than scenes of the survivors munching on chunks of their friends and family was the general attempt to frame the events in inspirational terms.) Directed by J.A. Bayona and adapted from a different nonfiction book by Uruguayan journalist Pablo Vierci, Society of the Snow aims for a little more verisimilitude: The characters speak Spanish, the script reportedly sticks closer to the facts, and there’s less incongruous comic relief. 

The survivors huddle around in the wreckage of the plane in a still from Society of the Snow
Netflix / Netflix

After a brief prologue heavy on cheap foreshadowing (“This may be the last trip we take together, you know?” one guy tells a soon-to-be-frozen-solid friend), Society of the Snow hits its high point, literally and figuratively, with an intense depiction of the crash. Even more potently precise than the anatomical and structural damage — the crunch of bones and metal — is the emotional arc of the sequence, as attempts to joke through early signs of turbulence give way to a wave of cresting panic and existential terror. It’s one of the more harrowing midair nightmares the movies have offered in a minute.

Society of the Snow tracks the ensuing ordeal by days and casualties, like investigators piecing together an aerial calamity from the black box recovered from the wreckage. “This is a place where life is impossible,” intones nominal protagonist and narrator Numa (Enzo Vogrincic Roldán) as he and the other survivors huddle close in the downed aircraft, plot periodic scouting missions, and readjust their expectations when it becomes clear that the search parties won’t see them from the air until the snow melts months later. With the exception of an eccentric choice involving the aforementioned narration, the film clings to a dreary realism as tightly as its characters cling to life. Eventually, the inevitable matter of what to eat arises, and the ensuing conversation credibly touches upon a range of objections, moral and even legal, before everyone accepts that going full Donner Party is the only way they’ll see the spring. 

Two survivors trek through the heavy snow in a still from Society of the Snow
Netflix / Netflix

On that grisly subject, Society of the Snow is less graphic than Alive. This is not to say that Bayona, who made a name for himself with the supernatural thriller The Orphanage, doesn’t lean into the horror, fixing his camera an ominous distance away as one starving soul watches his teammates circle and carve. Later, the director revels in the claustrophobia of an avalanche that buries everyone in darkness. The primal terror of the elements clashes with the power of perseverance — a cocktail that recalls Bayona’s tacky disaster weepie The Impossible, which grossly asked us to feel uplifted by the endurance of British tourists while hundreds of thousands of others died in the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia. Here, at least, survivor’s guilt hangs over the triumphant upshot, a “happy ending” rendered less so.

Still, this is a filmmaker with an affinity for anguish. He loves tear-streaked faces in close-up. So much of Society of the Snow is just that: a wilderness crucible retold through grimaces and stares, with particular attention to the concaving of features hollowed by malnourishment. Is there an integrity to how interchangeable the characters become, a blur of emaciated masculinity? Maybe someone so pushed to physical and psychological limits would shed personality as quickly as pounds, reduced only to appetite and need. But one does almost begin to miss the cheesier character beats of Alive, if only for how they differentiated the thin, thinning throng. All we get here is the contrast of wordless flashbacks to better times, each death triggering a quick in-memoriam clip of the deceased at the airport, oblivious to the arctic hell they’re about to enter.

Society of the Snow | Official Trailer | Netflix

Slathered in the dark polish that is quickly becoming a kind of Netflix international house style (see also: last year’s All Quiet on the Western Front), Society of the Snow looks arty and grave. But in broad strokes, we’re not so far from the Hollywood version. In fact, this new docudrama often plays like a gritty remake of Alive, simply coloring its sentimentalism in a trendier shade of gray. Arguably, the movie suffers from the same problem as its predecessor: After the big dietary decision is made, there’s no more conflict between these ciphers — and still not much drama in watching them shiver and wait for deliverance.

Society of the Snow is now playing in select theaters and is streaming on Netflix. For more of A.A. Dowd’s writing, visit his Authory page.

Editors' Recommendations

A.A. Dowd
A.A. Dowd, or Alex to his friends, is a writer and editor based in Chicago. He has held staff positions at The A.V. Club and…
5 underrated Netflix movies that are perfect to watch for the winter
Michael Fassbender in The Snowman.

The Hateful Eight TWC

February is winding down, but there are still a few more weeks of winter ahead before the temperatures start to rise. And frankly, wouldn't you rather stay at home where it's warm than go outside in the cold? If so, Netflix has you covered with a wide variety of underrated movies that are perfect to watch for the winter. Some of these movies may even make you question the need to ever travel again!

Read more
3 Hulu movies you need to stream this weekend (Feb. 23-25)
A woman sits in Watcher.

February's been a pretty dreary month if you're single and/or a San Francisco 49ers fan. Ditto if you're a movie lover. Seriously, has there been a worse time for movies than 2024? It's been pretty bleak these last eight weeks, and March, with its promises of Dune: Part Two and 3 Body Problem, can't come soon enough.

To celebrate February's end, Digital Trends has a suggestion for you: stay in, log on to Hulu, and watch the movies on this list. One is a critically acclaimed drama that was just released in December 2023, another is an underrated thriller from 2022, and the last film is one of Quentin Tarantino's best movies ever.
All of Us Strangers (2023)

Read more
3 underrated Netflix movies you should watch this weekend (Feb. 23-25)
A man and a woman sit on a train in The Commuter.

Here's the truth: There's nothing to see this weekend at the movie theater. Madame Web is still stinking up the multiplex, and Dune: Part Two doesn't arrive until next week. So heed this warning: save your money, stay at home, and watch some movies on your TV.

You have Netflix, right? Chances are, you do. If you don't, check out our other guides for movies. But for those of you who do, here are three movies that aren't new, but are still worth watching. Trust me, they will entertain you far more than a stale Marvel comic book movie or a schmaltzy Bob Marley biopic.

Read more