There’s a civil war on in Sweden, and yet no one seems to know why. It’s gonna be a bad one, as imagined by the sporadically tense and consistently pointless Netflix thriller Black Crab, which sends the country into a state of dystopian devastation only five short years removed from the present. Brother has been pitted against brother, and yet the dividing lines between them remain hazy. At a glance, there’s no obvious rift of class, race or ideology defining the sides in this conflict. No one mentions what they have got against those bastards in the opposition, or the way of life they’re willing to die to preserve. That doesn’t have to be a problem; many soldiers marching off to fight cannot articulate the big-picture geopolitical impetuses for doing so, and that’s just how the powers that be like it. But seeing as we are here to question the morality of military action, it would certainly help to understand what everyone is arguing about.
In narrowing focus to the plight of speed skater Caroline Edh (Noomi Rapace), director Adam Berg and his co-writers (Jerker Virdborg, author of the source novel, and Pelle Rådström) give themselves enough room to wriggle out of the most difficult questions their premise poses. The mission she accepts, and her subsequent disillusionment with the cause upon completing it, illustrates the broad principle that war is no good while exempting the film from assuming a meaningful stance on the one at hand. That would require the creative team to commit to a partisanship outside of its vague, agreeable conclusion that peace is the only way, and they are more interested in the path there. Perilous and icy, it’s where all the most diverting moments take place in this against-the-elements tale of survival that goes off course in straining to be something more profound.
A prologue joins Caroline and her young daughter as a traffic standstill stops their car in a tunnel, fellow motorists soon running past her from gunmen in balaclavas. They nab the kid and set the plot in motion, though it’s hard not to fixate on the distinctly uprising-ish flavor to the guerrilla warfare and concealed identities, both of which go unexpanded upon and unaddressed. Instead, we jump ahead to the thick of societal breakdown, as army functionaries pluck Caroline from a squalid train-car and drive a hard bargain: if she’ll transport a tactically vital mystery canister across a frozen archipelago, she’ll be reunited with her family of her. One in a unit of six reluctant mercenaries with indistinct personalities making them near-impossible to keep straight, she sets out on a nerve-racking trek in a faint echo of Sorcerer’s high-stakes commute.
Thin ice has rules and terrors all its own, however, maximized through Berg’s suspense-forward direction. The team’s only chance to traverse the miles of unsteady ground is via skating, and if cracks should start to spiderweb beneath them, they must immediately distribute their weight by flopping down on their belly. In both cases, the unyielding anxiety that disaster could strike at any moment clashes with how clumsy this all looks to an outside observer. Sometimes amusing and sometimes alarming, at least this friction sets this suicide squad apart from their many forebears, whose cliches are embraced readily and often ineptly. (The obligatory scene in which the gang bonds over a fireside chat about what they’ll do when they are free comes way ahead of schedule, before we have had the time to care whether these characters live or die.)
Curiosity eventually gets the better of the drafted soldiers, and they learn that their payload touted as an end to the war could very well be – because it’s a biological weapon. An “are we the baddies?” crisis of conscience follows, stuffed down by Caroline in her single-minded pursuit of her child. The less-than-shocking revelation that awaits her at the base camp will change her mind de ella, waking her up to the fact that people in positions of authority will not hesitate to screw over even those most allegiant to their orders de ella. It’s a valid critique in general, but made in the context-free vacuum of this anonymous war, the sentiment loses its impact.
The confused ethical mathematics of the foolhardy final act, under which Caroline can rationalize mass death as a complicated gray area whereas lying is the last straw, fritters away the pressure that’s mounted over her frostbitten schlep. A last-ditch effort to dispose of the viral bomb she regrets delivering attempts to maintain momentum, to little avail. The scramble through industrial corridors plays as bland and commonplace in contrast to the precision and novelty of the trembling segments on the water. Besides, by that juncture, we’re too preoccupied pondering what this is all for. A pacifist parable taking a brave stand against nothing, totally removed from the sociocultural landscape of today’s Sweden, it sounds out like one of Caroline’s screams into the howling Scandinavian wind – impassioned, futile, heard by no one.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism