"Society of the Snow" streams on Netflix.

 "Society of the Snow" streams on Netflix. Credit: Netflix /Quim Vines

MOVIE "Society of the Snow"

WHERE Streaming on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The story of the 1972 Uruguayan plane crash in the Andes Mountains and the survival of 16 of the 45 people onboard long ago became the stuff of legend. 

The 72-day nightmare in the remote, frozen tundra of western Argentina, with its extraordinarily oppressive conditions, has been the subject of several feature films and documentaries, most prominently the 1993 Hollywood movie “Alive” starring Ethan Hawke.

So there are not a lot of surprises in the Netflix release “Society of the Snow,” which tells the story of how these survivors, members of the Montevideo-based Old Christians rugby union team, managed to endure what they did and make it out alive.

But the filmmaker J.A. Bayona (“The Impossible”) nonetheless renders it anew, adapting the Pablo Vierci book of the same title into a compelling survival story with a first-rate ensemble of primarily new actors, earning an Oscar nomination for best international feature film in the process.

MY SAY “Society of the Snow” puts you right there at this crash site, more than two miles above sea level, surrounded by mountain peaks in a place called the “Valley of Tears.”

High angles and sweeping wide shots reveal the extent of the isolation. There is nothing and no one there.

The wind whistles loudly and pierces the skin. The snow, deep and packed, crunches with every step. The chattering teeth, the ferocious shivers, the subzero torment: it's brutal, it's harsh, and Bayona makes you feel every bit of it.

Even ostensible objects of hope become sources of despair: A barely working radio tells the survivors that the search for them has been called off.

This would be awful enough without arguably the most famous part of this story: the starvation that quickly set in, the desperation that followed and the cannibalism that became the only available solution.

To its credit, Bayona's movie shows no interest in sugarcoating this. It avoids the expected pitfalls. There's not a veneer of sentimentality or false notes of optimism. It doesn't take the tactic of other movies and TV shows in this space, such as “Yellowjackets,” that skew toward the supernatural. It avoids sensationalizing even the most outlandish parts of the story.

Instead, “Society of the Snow” trades in a gritty and unvarnished depiction of the horrors of this experience. It gives equal weight to the physical burdens and to the psychological and spiritual turmoil as the bitterly cold days and nights stretch on.

Despite its vast setting, the movie is unbearably claustrophobic. It is a film about slow, agonizing death, captured in close-up. When an avalanche sets in and buries the survivors in the plane, the resulting sequence stands as both a filmmaking marvel and a wrenchingly realistic depiction of what it must have felt like to be trapped there.

“Society of the Snow” is, in other words, a significant achievement when it comes to raw, virtuoso filmmaking. The environment tells the story to the point where the characters can become rather indistinguishable. But the portrayal of courage and mutual sacrifice under these impossible conditions lingers.

BOTTOM LINE This is a hard movie to watch, but that's because it's an honest depiction of a harrowing ordeal.

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