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Review: The Unthinkable – “Well-directed and full of promise for the future”

When you think of collectives of directors, it brings some esteemed names to mind.  The Coen brothers for a start, and the Wachowskis.  Calling yourself ‘Crazy Pictures’ though… that kind of sounds like The Asylum, the cheap and cheerful studio that pumps out micro-budget knock-offs of Hollywood blockbusters.  Harmless, silly fun, but not likely to last in the memory longer than the beer and pizza that go with them.

Yet, The Unthinkable, actually directed by one Victor Danell under that curious nom-de-plume, is an intense, serious (if I were being harsh, I’d say ‘humourless’) thriller.  And it’s Swedish.  I’m a film snob and a Guardian reader.  If it’s Swedish with subtitles, it must be good, right?

The film focuses on three characters, Alex (Christoffer Nordenrot, who wrote the film with Danell), his father Bjorn (Jasper Barksellus) and his unrequited love Anna (Lisa Henni).  It was made in 2018 and is contemporary, apart from a well-realised prologue in 2005, that sets up the character drama.

Alex is a gifted musician; his father works at an electricity station.  To say they don’t get on is an understatement, but their relationship (or lack of it) is set against the larger backdrop of apparent terrorist attacks happening across Sweden, which develop into a chilling and feasible nightmare.  The early indications of this are genuinely frightening if you’re aware of the real-life events this echoes.

An early part of the film is set on Midsummers Day, and after watching so many Scandi noirs, it’s nice to see sunshine on-screen in contrast to normality where everything apart from the sweaters is a bit washed out and dull.  The cinematography is fine.  It’s not showy, it’s not Roger Deakins, but it works.  When the action starts, it’s well-directed and full of promise for the future.  Calling it ‘action’ seems a bit trite, because the violence is full-on, but if nothing else, Danell could get a gig doing second-unit direction in a John Wick movie.

It’s clear this is where Danell’s passion lies, too.  At one point, Bjorn goes on a gleeful Home Alone style spree with improvised traps involving chainsaws and explosives.  A subplot about chemical warfare is the catalyst for vehicular carnage on a bridge.  And while compensating for low budget with low light, there are impressive aerial combat scenes.

However, the character drama is overwrought and overwritten.  It reminded me of the plays we used to write and improvise in my Sixth Form Theatre Studies class.  All the guys ever wanted to write about was difficult relationships with their dads, which was usually an excuse for a stage fight (which was usually an excuse to show off to the girls).

Although it’s well-acted, it’s both too familiar and unconvincing, and the biggest problem is that it makes neither Alex nor Bjorn likeable.  Despite the traumatic events around them, it’s difficult to empathise with these characters.

There’s another problem with The Unthinkable which is that it is all too thinkable.  No one is likely to be surprised by the big-bad of this film.  Whether Sweden would genuinely be on their hit list doesn’t make it any less uneasy.  We’re seeing events as entertainment that cleave too closely to lived experience.

This is not a fun film, by any means (if you want a fun film about difficult paternal relationships during the apocalypse, then check out The Mitchells versus the Machines.)  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as a warning, either.  Instead, it is yet another expression of our obsession with dystopian, horrible futures in a world that is consistently trending toward less violence.

The Unthinkable is a well-made film with impressively shot combat.  It does last longer in the mind than something from The Asylum, and I expect we’ll see more from Danell, if not Crazy Pictures.  There are worse ways to spend two hours of your life, but there are much better options.  That’s why you have reviewers.

The Unthinkable is released in theatres and on demand on Friday May 7th.

For more of my ramblings, check out FiskFilm or Medium.

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