Unthinkable, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/07/19 00:04:21

"Pesky Russian cyber-attacks, making family issues more difficult."
3 stars (Average)

SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 21: "The Unthinkable" is better than a lot of movies that try to link massive calamity to personal melodrama, mostly because it lets them be separate things despite the significant overlap, but "better" in this context can be kind of a tricky thing: It's never as empty as the other genre movies it shares a basic shape with, but that also makes the moments when it uses the same sort of storytelling devices a little less forgivable. The filmmakers will occasionally do something that makes a viewer say they're supposed to be better than this, though the fact that they are most of the time makes up some.

The priorities are somewhat clear with an opening that focuses on young Alex and Anna, a pair of teens who are obviously fond of each other but going through some tumult: Alex's parents are breaking up in a loud, rancorous manner; Anna's are moving, having only settled in this small town with other family temporarily. Ten years later Alex (Christoffer Nordenrot) is a successful musician who has not returned home for years but will for his mother's funeral, while Anna (Lisa Henni) has resettled there. There's a mysterious explosion on the news as Alex hits the road, and soon enough Sweden is in a state of near-chaos, with more attacks focused on infrastructure. Anna's main concern is for her daughter while Alex's is for Anna, while his father Björn (Jesper Barkselius) - the sort of crank who always warned everyone that this could happen - may be the last line of defense as the only person on duty at the electric station while most of the town is at Midsommar festivities.

Anna also has a family member or two who would be conveniently important if this movie was just about the attack, which creates a bit of a small-world issue once things start coming together. It's not as problematic as it could be in terms of sheer overwhelming coincidence, but there is a bit of danger of becoming one of those movies where the massive calamity with all loss of life comes across as primarily a catalyst to show this small group of people what's really important rather than incidentally such. The filmmakers manage to walk that line fairly well - for instance, the threat is human rather than natural, so they're hard to see as some sort of higher power, but their motivation is disconnected enough to keep the focus on Alex, Anna, and the like. There are still some moments when the self-reflection gets a little heavy, but seldom to the point where the rest is diminished.

Part of this is because the filmmakers and actor Christoffer Nordenrot are okay with Alex being and staying kind of selfish. Both the disasters of his parents breaking up and his country being attacked are traumatic, and with both he has trouble looking at the situation in broader terms than how it hurts him, and Nordenrot taps into that without ever making Alex seem like a monster. It's a more carefully constructed picture of a guy who has been hurt enough to build walls but now has to deal with the threat of losing people close to him than a disaster movie usually has, and it's complemented by nice work from Jespern Barkselius, whose Björn is also a difficult-to-love mess. Lisa Henni's Anna doesn't get to have quite the same level of complexity as Anna, because the girl he's trying to become worthy of seldom does, but she's appealing and never feels like she's just been waiting for him.

It plays out against a background that is grander than one might expect for a movie produced by a collective ("Crazy Pictures") rather than a studio, and for that matter playing at an underground film festival, enough that the first time the action gets big can be a pleasant surprise. There are a lot of things about this bit of the movie that viewers have probably seen more than a few times before - misplaced suspicions, the government so decapitated that an unlikely minister is effectively in charge, having to convince the military that standard operating procedure would be disastrous - but it's presented crisply, only occasionally taking the audience's reaction for granted. The villains may be more or less faceless soldiers, but the confrontations are staged well, with geography treated as a thing that matters.

"The Unthinkable" is still a movie where the filmmakers create a situation where (at least) hundreds die so that people can watch one guy can get over himself, but they avoid the worst of the problems that creates and keep both sides of the story worth watching. It may not be an absolutely top-tier disaster film, but it's big enough and sincere enough to work, and that's not always a given.

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