Netflix’s action movie Black Crab turns ice skating into a crucial post-apocalyptic skill
Skating commandos are interesting, but Noomi Rapace's action import is lacking in several key features.
The publicity materials for Netflix’s Swedish-import action film Black Crab state that it is set in a post-apocalyptic future, which fits the darkly elegant military thriller’s look and mood. However, the term “post-apocalyptic” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s really mid-apocalyptic, and the apocalypse onscreen isn’t a plague, alien invasion, or environmental disaster. It’s a war — a traditional, brutal war that has raged for years.
The geopolitics of this scenario are deliberately obscured. A vehicle radio cites riots, “both sides” blaming each other, and the beginnings of a civil war in an opening flashback. Sweden appears to be the setting. The adversary is always referred to as “the adversary.” To the best of our knowledge, it appears to be a civilization turning on itself rather than a battle of cultures or nations, although no ideological schism is ever described. Whatever triggered the conflict had to be serious, because the society is on the verge of collapse.
All of this opacity is apparently intended to emphasize the meaninglessness of the fight, or to dissuade people from becoming engrossed in their particular political ideas on the war. But, in reality, it’s a loss of creativity that renders the picture meaningless: a dreary disquisition on how war is horrible that somehow looks sort of great.
Noomi Rapace, who played Caroline Edh in the first Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, reprises her role as a soldier recruited for a covert mission, the title’s “operation Black Crab.” It’s the dead of winter, and her side is losing the battle. They’re nearly completely cut off, and the only way to change the tide is to deliver two mystery canisters to a secluded island research outpost. And the only way to get there is to go stealthily at night, behind enemy lines, across an archipelago encased in sea ice. Because the ice isn’t thick enough to hold a vehicle, Caroline and a motley crew of five other troops are gathered because they all have an old-school Nordic expertise:They are able to skate.
It’s easy to see why commercials director Adam Berg, making his feature debut, was drawn to the idea of Jerker Virdborg’s 2002 novel. Berg, to be fair, captures both the aesthetic appeal and the psychological tension with panache. The little group floats softly over an eerie, fragile white wilderness, a dismal planet hung delicately above a deathly vacuum of icy sea water. Arcing flares, muzzle flashes, distant explosions, and the unearthly glory of the aurora borealis illuminate the night skies. The visuals occasionally have a bizarre poetry to them. The crew must deal with the cold, hazardous ice, the ever-present adversary — and each other, because they are strangers and don’t know who to trust.
Black Crab fits nicely here, given the odd and dangerous atmosphere it generates. The economical bursts of action are clearly laid out and bitten off with razor-sharp accuracy. The objective is straightforward, and the perils are real. However, when Berg and his co-writer Pelle Rdström try for anything more, they just close their hands on air. There are many empty clichés.
Rapace is believable, yet she is limited by the flimsy material. Caroline, who is abrasive and unpredictable, is seen in flashback sequences attempting to survive the early days of the war with her daughter Vanja, who is taken away from her. Her commanders use her misery as incentive, and their promise of an easy conclusion to the conflict if her mission succeeds is, to say the least, questionable. But she continues to charge. Her nihilistic drive makes sense, but her blinkered obliviousness does not, and viewers are likely to roll their eyes as the scales fall from her eyes.Rapace is believable, yet she is limited by the flimsy material. Caroline, who is abrasive and unpredictable, is seen in flashback sequences attempting to survive the early days of the war with her daughter Vanja, who is taken away from her. Her commanders use her misery as incentive, and their promise of an easy conclusion to the conflict if her mission succeeds is, to say the least, questionable. But she continues to charge. Her nihilistic drive makes sense, but her blinkered obliviousness does not, and viewers are likely to roll their eyes as the scales fall from her eyes.
There’s another, more difficult issue with Black Crab. A terrible, large-scale internecine conflict in a contemporary European country was the stuff of dark fiction when this picture was filmed. It isn’t anymore. Berg depicts scenes of bombed-out apartment buildings and deplorable refugee camps that resemble the nightly TV headlines on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This isn’t the fault of the filmmakers, and the world of Black Crab is just far enough off from reality to be entertaining.
However, the comparison reveals the film for what it is: an empty gesture. Yes, war is awful, and it motivates individuals to commit the unthinkable. However, it also occurs for genuine and difficult reasons, with real stakes: humanistic, political, and moral. By removing all meaning from their reality, Berg and his colleagues reveal only a beautiful, horrifying nothingness. It’s a shame, to be honest.
Black Crab is now available on Netflix.