June 14, 2021


Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

‘The Unthinkable’ review: A relationship disaster thriller

The title of the Swedish thriller “The Unthinkable” refers to a series of mysterious attacks that paralyze the country. As armed forces stealthily invade, the internet and the electrical grid go haywire, snarling traffic and cutting off communication. People are left to fend for themselves and to fight for their lives, even though they don’t really know what’s happening.

Written, directed and produced (among other things) by a five-person collective that calls itself Crazy Pictures, “The Unthinkable” features several breathtaking moments that illustrate societal collapse: cars and trucks skidding off the roads, a helicopter and a small airplane locked in a dogfight in smoke-filled skies, the sight of flaming buildings on a distant horizon and more.

But the movie is not, first and foremost, a spectacle. For the initial half-hour, it’s the story of a lonely kid named Alex (played by Christoffer Nordenrot, the movie’s cowriter), who trains himself to be a world-class pianist to spite his emotionally abusive father, Björn (Jesper Barkselius). Alex also pines for his childhood sweetheart, Anna (Lisa Henni), who moved away when they were teenagers.

All these characters are brought back together when the attacks begin. Björn, who works in a power plant, is one of the first to sense the coming danger. Alex, meanwhile, meets Anna again — and his dad — when he comes home to deal with his mother’s death.

After an unusually thorough amount of setup, for most of its second hour, “The Unthinkable” proceeds on three fronts. The first involves intense moment-to-moment survival, as the chaos around Alex and company intensifies. The second has to do with figuring out the identity of the attackers, something that is only slyly hinted at during a montage of news reports at the end of the film.

These two elements are handled conventionally, but well. “The Unthinkable” doesn’t look or feel like a Hollywood blockbuster, but it’s not straight-to-video schlock either.

But what really sets the movie apart is its third, most prevalent level: the story of multiple broken relationships that find some measure of closure when those involved need each other most. A lot of big action pictures add “a little heart” between the thrills, but “The Unthinkable” reverses the ratio, centering emotions.

Some genre fans may be impatient with this approach at first, but by the end, it really works. This isn’t just a story about a world-ending threat. It’s a story about a handful of people who don’t want to die before settling unfinished business.

‘The Unthinkable’

In Swedish with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 2 hours, 9 minutes

Playing: Available May 7 on VOD