The lore of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, which fell out of the sky and crashed into the South American Andes in 1972, typically summons grisly images of cannibalism and gangrene. The 72 days that a Uruguayan rugby team en route to Chile endured, snow-drifted and hungry, have been dramatized elsewhere, including the 1993 survival drama “Alive,” starring a mostly white and Anglicized cast. Now, after a moment under the tentpole sun with the ill-conceived “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona returns to the style of more personal and human disasters with “Society of the Snow.” Shot in Spanish with Uruguayan accents, this muscular and often brutal depiction is chiseled with authenticity, but it’s too psychologically schematic to make much in the way of an emotional impact.

That’s not to say Bayona and his team haven’t devised some seriously impressive filmmaking: “Society of the Snow” was filmed in Spain and South America amid harsh terrain, and multiple recreations of an airplane fuselage were built in service of the movie’s oppressively claustrophobic atmosphere. Flight 571’s unexpected rapid descent and collision with Earth is harrowingly dramatized to horrifying, almost “Final Destination” levels, seat-belted bodies collapsing in on each other like an accordion, legs breaking in half, throats pierced, all the screaming and agony. On Day 17, five days into a subzero storm, an avalanche killed 13 more of the rugby players, and here’s another moment when you remember Bayona is the director of “The Impossible”; there’s no one more deft than he is at recreating disaster and, in turn, bringing the dead back to life only to kill them again.

The issue is that for all Bayona’s grasping at authenticity and trying to reposition the survivors’ stories back in a properly South American context, he wants to have his disaster cake and eat it, too: There’s something just a bit exploitative-feeling about these grisly, graphic sequences, however awesomely staged they may be, or at least a tenor that feels at odds with his compassionate instincts elsewhere.

Bayona adapts “Society of the Snow” from a 2009 nonfiction book by Uruguayan journalist Pablo Vierci, with screenwriters also including Bernat Vilaplana, Jaime Marques, and Nicolás Casariego. That collection of voices, you could argue, also extends to the movie’s own ensemble. 45 passengers and crew went down in the Andes in 1972, with only 16 making it home. The rugby players in this film are, frankly, indistinguishable in terms of the character development afforded them, though Bayona works well with a core cast of unknown actors. Enzo Vogrincic Roldán narrates plaintively as Numa Turcatti; others include Agustín Pardella as Nando Parrado and Matías Recalt as Roberto Canessa, who together embarked on an expedition up the Andes seeking help. Bayona wisely eschews the “Lost” formula of introducing each stranded member of the team and then flipping back in time to reconstruct their backstory.

Society of the Snow
“Society of the Snow”Netflix

But “Society of the Snow” could’ve used some semblance of psychological heft, its collective only loose outlines of actual people. And as you’ve probably heard, these are people who end up having to eat each other. Bayona does not shy away from the reality that, one by one and eventually, the surviving teammates resorted to consuming their dead brethren’s flesh. Here, composer Michael Giacchino’s score is eerily tense, a tightening coil of strings, and his superb musical overall is maybe the best thing about the entire film. Pedro Luque’s cinematography, meanwhile, captures the widest possible vista of the terrains inside and out of the fallen fuselage, all the beauty and the unsparing terror of, well, Sierra Nevada, standing in for the Andes. Bayona and Luque love a good early morning lens flare, and “Society of the Snow” features striking landscape photography that wouldn’t be out of place in National Geographic.

Some of the actors lost more than 20 kilos for their roles, and their deteriorating physical states get blunter as the 72 days in the mountains wear on, the men’s skin bluish and pasty from overexposure to the cold, everyone covered in a patina of frost and filth. Bayona’s reverence for verisimilitude folds back into his initial aims of the picture to tell the most authentic version of this story possible, when all that’s been put to screen so far was a mostly whitewashed version starring Ethan Hawke and Josh Hamilton. While “Society of the Snow’s” heart may be in the right place, it’s the individual souls of the people in it that appear to be missing.

Grade: C+

Spain’s submission for the Best International Feature Film Oscar, “Society of the Snow” opens in select theaters from Netflix on Friday, December 22. It will stream globally on January 5.

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