Based on the novel by Jerker Virdborg, Swedish film BLACK CRAB offers a dark apocalyptic vision I really wanted to like but found fairly flawed. Carried by stimulating set pieces and solidly empathetic acting by Noomi Rapace (LAMB), it’s engaging but in the end left me feeling pretty empty.
It’s the near future, and Sweden is devouring itself in a conflict that appears to be a civil war. Caroline Edh (Rapace), a soldier in this war-torn, apocalyptic wasteland, seemingly exists to fight, inflicting vengeance on the enemy who took her teenage daughter from her early in the conflict when Edh was just a civilian trying to flee the city. She’s called before a commander who tells her they’re losing the war, and she and a small team must travel behind enemy lines to deliver a canister to a research facility on an island. This canister, she’s told, could end the war. As the sea here is frozen over, they will travel across the archipelago on ice skates. It looks like a suicide mission, but Edh accepts, as she’s told her daughter is alive and well on the island.
There’s a lot going for BLACK CRAB. First off, it’s unrelentingly grim, providing a very dark backdrop against which Edh’s tiny bit of hope to reunite with her daughter burns brightly. This is an apocalyptic world, no goofing around or comic relief to break the tension, nothing happy about it all, in fact. The world building is exceptional, with the journey punctuated by sharp, economical, and realistic action scenes and provocative set pieces. As with the striking Swedish invasion movie UNTHINKABLE, the conflict and the enemy are left vague, and it’s unclear who the good guys are. The canister starts off as a MacGuffin but when it’s revealed what it is, it changes the game. The plot is simple: get from point A to B to end a horrific war. The theme of, in a war like this, the only side worth fighting for is humanity’s, is powerful.
On the downside, for me as a viewer, there are some flaws. The vagueness of the conflict worked as a mystery in UNTHINKABLE but feels generic in BLACK CRAB, making the whole thing seem kind of meaningless. Some of the major plot points feel very derivative. The protagonist chooses to side with humanity seemingly out of vengeance rather than as a purely moral decision. This compromises the protagonist’s decision that changes everything in the last act and only adds to the bleakness rather than rising above and sharply contrasting against it.
Then there’s the timing. The film came out while people watched very real horrors unfolding in Ukraine, so I’m not sure the release’s timing helped or hindered it.
Overall, BLACK CRAB was watchable for me, particularly for its remarkable world building, set pieces, and Noomi Rapace bringing much-needed humanity to her character, but the overall bleak and empty story and lack of a true moral decision kept it from being great for me.