The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Verdict: Tom Blyth and Rachel Zegler shine in this dark yet entertaining dystopian thriller

  • Rachel Zegler, Tom Blyth, Viola Davis, Jason Schwartzman, Peter Dinklage
  • November 17th 2023
  • Francis Lawrence

Tom Blyth plays a young Coriolanus Snow, who has to mentor tribute Lucy Gray Baird for the 10th annual Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games are back! After eight years without an instalment, the prequel movie has arrived.

The film, based on Suzanne Collins’s book of the same name, is set 64 years before the events of the first film and stars Tom Blyth as a teenage version of Coriolanus Snow, Panem’s tyrannical president.

For the 10th annual Hunger Games, where selected tributes fight until there is one victor left standing, Snow is assigned to mentor District 12’s girl tribute, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler). He must coach her on how to survive the games so he can win the Plinth Prize and go to university.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes isn’t quite as good as the first Hunger Games or Catching Fire but it’s pretty close. It’s far better than your average prequel and an improvement upon the source material.

It is a dark yet entertaining dystopian thriller which charts Snow’s trajectory from a penniless and desperate student to the ruthless, power-hungry psychopath we know so well.

In a star-making turn, Blyth does a terrific job navigating his character’s descent from a kind person to an evil one. You will probably start out liking him – despite knowing his future – before he slowly becomes corrupted by power.

He is equally matched by Zegler as the charming Lucy Gray, who easily wins over the hearts of the nation with her beautiful singing voice. The West Side Story actress sang live on set, which adds a layer of authenticity to her performance.

In the supporting cast, the main highlight is Jason Schwartzman as the hilarious host Lucky Flickerman, who brings some much-needed comic relief to the film.

The other standouts include Viola Davis as the sinister Dr. Gaul and Hunter Schafer as the sweet Tigris.

Readers of the book will be pleased to know that it is a very loyal adaptation. Thankfully, it also speeds up the pace of the third act and makes the conclusion far more satisfying than it was on the page.

Those who haven’t read the book will probably feel the chunky runtime of 2 hours and 38 minutes more keenly than readers because they don’t know what’s coming.

But in defence of the runtime, it’s all necessary and director Francis Lawrence could not have cut out any more from the book than he already has.

The original franchise focused on the tributes and this prequel flips the perspective to shine a light on the privileged people in the Capitol. It shouldn’t work but it somehow does.

In cinemas from Friday 17th November.

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