A Uruguayan rugby team finds themselves stranded in the Andes Mountains for 72 days after their plane crashes. The surviving members are forced to resort to consuming the bodies of their deceased comrades in order to endure the harsh conditions. These true events, which unfolded in 1972 and served as the basis for the Hollywood film “Alive” in 1993, now serve as the inspiration for filmmaker J.A. Bayona’s latest work, “Society of the Snow.” Rather than a simple tale of human perseverance, Bayona’s retelling, based on Pablo Vierci’s book of the same name, delves into the emotional and spiritual struggles faced by the survivors, exploring their battle to maintain their humanity amidst the most inhumane of acts.
The screenplay, crafted by Bayona, Bernat Vilaplana, Jaime Marques-Olearraga, and Nicolás Casariego, transcends the mere physical ordeal of survival, examining the profound impact on the characters’ psyche. The narrative reflects on the once-unthinkable acts that became routine for the survivors. Spain has submitted “Society of the Snow” for consideration in the international feature Academy Award category, and it has recently secured a place on the Oscars’ shortlist for makeup and hairstyling, original score, and visual effects.
“Society of the Snow” marks Bayona’s return to Spanish-language filmmaking since his debut with the gothic horror fable “The Orphanage” in 2007. Despite Bayona’s subsequent English-language films, including the tsunami survival drama “The Impossible” (2012) and the blockbuster “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (2018), the director’s confidence remains grounded and substantive. The film features limited shooting in the actual remote crash location and a significant portion in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain. Bayona maintains focus on the characters and their experiences, allowing the production efforts to seamlessly fade into the background.
The depiction of the crash itself is characterized by unflinching realism, conveying the bone-crunching power as seats and bodies collapse like dominoes, creating an almost unbelievable survival scenario. As the survivors carve out a semblance of day-to-day normalcy, an avalanche disrupts their lives once again.
While inevitable comparisons arise with the television series “Yellowjackets,” where a ’90s American high school girls soccer team resorts to cannibalism after a crash in the Pacific Northwest, “Society of the Snow” distinguishes itself by remaining firmly rooted in the immediacy of the events. The film centers around the Old Christians rugby team, highlighting the collective effort and sacrifices of the group rather than individual heroics. The emphasis on the giving of bodies and flesh underscores the profound sense of sacrifice.
As the film concludes, it becomes evident that the meaning of their harrowing experience is subjective, left to each individual to interpret. Bayona skillfully blends survivalist adventure with an otherworldly spirituality, suggesting that the survivors were touched by something greater, yet the answers to their needs were within them all along.