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Double Feature Fridays: Escape

Chris Evans and Brie Larson try to break out of their respective cages, with varying results

Utsav Kotrial Oct 12, 2018

Chris Evans in Snowpiercer

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Being trapped is universally terrifying. Lock an individual or group of people in a confined space, and it’s guaranteed that all hell will break loose. People can lose themselves to fear, turn on each other, get desperate to survive or break out. The concept is inherently tense, and offers filmmakers a chance to lower their budget and sometimes work with a single location or room (Saw), and also allows a greater focus on characters and their relationships. It’s a lucrative concept that has seen many variations over the years. The desire to escape has been expanded into everything from high-concept, low-budget sci-fi (Coherence) to gruelling true stories of man versus nature (127 Hours). Horror films practically thrive on it (For starters: The Shining, REC, Green Room, The Mist).

A still from Cube (1997)

This week on #DoubleFeatureFridays, we’re looking at two films that came out a year apart, where resilient protagonists (two ‘Captains’ of the MCU) protect their loved ones and attempt to break out of their cages: the dystopian sci-fi Snowpiercer and the suspenseful and emotional drama Room.

Room (2015)

Starring Oscar winner Brie Larson and child actor Jacob Tremblay in startlingly natural performances, Room is an independent drama adapted from Emma Donaghue’s book of the same name. It’s a heart-wrenching story about a young woman who is kidnapped as a teenager and locked in an isolated shed, where the rapist captor impregnates her, and she has a child named Jack. Although a fictional tale, it was inspired by tragic real life headlines. The film starts midway, when Jack turns five. We learn that in order to give him a happy childhood Larson’s character Joy “Ma” Newsome does two things: She never lets the kidnapper interact with the boy and convinces Jack that only the shed that they are in, called Room, is real and the rest of the world just exists on television.

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Room features one of the most convincing parent-child relationships on screen, strife with affection and mounting conflict. Jack is a curious, intelligent young boy, and gets excited about every ‘new’ thing he observes in Room (like bugs or a sliver of light), and questions where they come from. The tension comes from putting ourselves in Ma’s shoes. She knows the truth of their horrible existence and does everything she can to shield him from it. When the abuser comes to visit she makes him sleep in the closet. His childlike wonder and her depression is a strong contrast, one that makes their joyful scenes together even more valuable.

Although I’ll spare the details of the escape itself, it is powerful to witness. My heart was pounding as the film’s dingy claustrophobic setting opened up into a colourful world of infinite possibility. But instead of giving the audience an easy way out, Donaghue and director Lenny Abrahamson make it a pit stop. The psychological depth comes from how it examines life after Room. It isn’t easy to erase years of confinement and abuse. Room is patient with its characters, spending time on a realistic portrayal of survivors adjusting to the outside world. Despite being consumed by their trauma, Jack and Ma find ways to heal together. Room isn’t an easy watch, but as a testament to the human spirit, it’s unmissable.

Snowpiercer (2013)

Snowpiercer is an English flick adapted from a French graphic novel by the talented South Korean filmmaker, Bong Joon-Ho. Like all good dystopian sci-fi, it’s not concerned solely with fantasy, but offers biting observations about the real world. Imagine an experiment to stop global warming, that ends with the planet freezing over. A few thousand survivors are forced to board the last remnant of civilisation: the Snowpiercer, a train with a ‘perpetual engine,’ that endlessly circles the world.

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Unfortunately, the locomotive keeps our cruel class system alive. It hosts a microcosm of the human race according to the clauses of capitalism… the rich could afford a better ticket, so they live in the luxurious front of the train, drowning in excess. The poor and disenfranchised are stacked on top of each other in the tail, living in filth. They’re abused by armed guards and Tilda Swinton’s zany bureaucrat, and the only nourishment provided to them is a limited number of dark, chewy protein bars.

That’s where Chris Evans’ grizzled, sensitive character Curtis comes in. With the help of a mentor, Curtis devises an escape plan, uniting the oppressed to break out of the tail, to find and control the engine.

From this point, Snowpiercer becomes a truly weird and disturbing action movie with the forward momentum of a video game. Every section of the train has a unique environment and enemies to defeat, and it keeps things fresh and unpredictable within the grey confines. It’s punctuated by some astonishing moments, like the sequence where the rebels discover a cheerful classroom where kids are taught to worship the engine and hate tail-dwellers, with religious fervour. Or when the rebels find the sickening source of the protein bars they’ve been eating. It’s disorienting in the best way, and by the time the team reaches the engine, there is no simple solution anymore.

Snowpiercer a powerful allegory for trying to escape poverty in a system that’s designed to encourage exploitation and destroy hope. It’s scathing socioeconomic commentary goes down smoothly with the fisticuffs and gunfights. If you’re tired of blockbusters without a soul, you’ll enjoy this grimy rollercoaster.

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