TA civil war is raging in Sweden, and yet nobody seems to know why. It’s going to be a bad one, as introduced by the sporadically tense and consistently pointless Netflix thriller Black Crab, which plunges the country into a state of dystopian devastation just five short years from the present. Brother has been pitted against brother, and yet the dividing lines between them remain blurred. At first glance, there is no apparent class, race, or ideology divide that defines the sides in this conflict. No one mentions what they have against these bastards in opposition, or the way of life they are willing to die to preserve. That doesn’t have to be a problem; Many soldiers going into battle cannot articulate the grand geopolitical impetus to do so, and such are the powers that be. But since we’re here to question the morality of military action, it would certainly help to understand what everyone is arguing about.
By narrowing the focus to the plight of speed skater Caroline Edh (Noomi Rapace), director Adam Berg and his co-writers (Jerker Virdborg, author of the original novel, and Pelle Rådström) give themselves enough room to wriggle out of the toughest questions of theirs premise. The mission she accepts and her subsequent disillusionment with the cause after completing it illustrate the general principle that war is no good and absolves the film from taking a meaningful stance on the present one. That would require the creative team to commit to taking sides outside of their vague, comfortable conclusion that peace is the only way, and they’re more interested in the way to get there. Dangerous and frigid, this is where the most distracting moments unfold in this tale of survival against the elements, which veers off course as it struggles to be something deeper.
A prologue joins Caroline and her young daughter as a traffic standstill halts her car in a tunnel, other motorists soon being run past her by armed men in balaclavas. You grab the kid and set the story in motion, though it’s hard not to focus on the distinctly insurgent flavor of guerrilla warfare and hidden identities, both of which are unexpanded and unaddressed. Instead, we plunge into the midst of a societal collapse when Army officials pluck Caroline from a run-down train car and strike a tough deal: if she transports a tactically vital mystery canister across a frozen archipelago, she will be reunited with her family. One in a unit of six reluctant mercenaries with indistinct personalities that make it nearly impossible for them to stay upright, she sets out on a nerve-wracking trek in a faint echo of Sorcerer’s high-stakes commute.
Thin Ice has its own set of rules and horrors, but Berg’s suspense-forward direction maximizes them. The team’s only chance to traverse the miles of unsafe floors is by skating, and when cracks start to form cobwebs beneath them, they must immediately redistribute their weight by dropping on their stomachs. In both cases, the unrelenting fear that catastrophe could strike at any moment collides with how awkward it all looks to an outside observer. Sometimes amusing and sometimes alarming, at least that friction sets these suicide squads apart from their many ancestors, whose clichés are readily, and often inappropriately, embraced. (The obligatory scene where the gang bond over a fireside chat about what they’ll do when they’re free comes well ahead of schedule, before we’ve had time to bother with whether these characters live or die. )
Curiosity eventually wins out among the conscripted soldiers, and they learn that their payload, touted as the end of the war, could well be the end of the war—because it’s a biological weapon. A “Are we the bad guys?” ensues the crisis of conscience stuffed by Caroline in a single-minded pursuit of her child. The less-than-shocking revelation that awaits them at base camp will change their minds and make them aware of the fact that those in positions of authority will have no hesitation in screwing over even those who now obey their orders. It’s a valid criticism in general, but uttered in the context-free vacuum of this anonymous war, the sentiment loses its potency.
The muddled ethical math of the foolish final act, under which Caroline can rationalize mass death as a complicated gray area while lies are the last straw, squanders the pressure mounting over her frozen schlep. A last ditch attempt to dispose of the viral bombshell she regrets having made attempts to keep the momentum going, to no avail. Climbing through industrial corridors plays out dull and mundane in contrast to the precision and novelty of the quivering segments on the water. Also, at this point, we’re too busy trying to figure out what all this is for. A pacifist parable that bravely goes against nothing, utterly detached from the socio-cultural landscape of contemporary Sweden, it sounds like one of Caroline’s screams into the howling Scandinavian wind – passionate, futile, heard by no one.