For about forty minutes, I thought I was screening the wrong movie. All I knew of The Unthinkable beforehand was that it had something to do with a disaster. Those early scenes are all about a teenage boy, the fractious relationship he has with his father, and how he pines for the proverbial Girl Who Got Away. Not until the start of the second act does the film give a hint about the disaster to come. Even then, it takes time to really get going. American disaster flicks tend to focus on the wreckage first, with some human-centered drama squeezed in around it. This Swedish import goes the other way, focusing on the people first, then showing how they respond to the disaster.
The teenager is Alex (Christoffer Nordenrot). He's got a stern father, Bjorn (Jesper Barkselius), a mother who abandons them, and a sweet romance with Anna (Lisa Henni) until her family moves away. Obviously, he's heartbroken. Bjorn makes no effort to comfort him, which just adds to the tension between them. A few years later, he's working as a musician when word comes that his mother has been killed in a terrorist attack. Panic sets in, leading him to decide to reconcile with his father and find Anna.
Where is the disaster? There are additional attacks on Stockholm, one of which wipes out an important bridge. Bjorn, who works at a power station, sees signs that wiping out the electrical grid is part of the plan. Chemical rain, which causes people to act bizarrely and lose their memories, pours from the sky. The story heavily implies that Russia is behind all this.
There are some stunning disaster scenes in The Unthinkable. One of the best involves a bunch of drivers, impacted by that rain, feeling compelled to smash their cars into each other. Another sequence with Alex and Anna fleeing from a helicopter that's crashing to the ground is equally exciting. Director Victor Danell doesn't go Roland Emmerich-style overboard with these bits, instead using the destruction simply to create a sense of danger that cannot be escaped.
At its core, The Unthinkable is about how the characters redefine and reevaluate their relationships in the wake of pending calamity. Knowing that the end may be near, Alex, Anna, and Bjorn have to analyze their shortcomings and assess how they can make amends before it's too late. Several stunning dramatic developments occur in the last forty-five minutes as they scramble to set things right or undo mistakes from the past. Keeping the focus on human emotions, rather than rolling out endless scenes of destruction, sets the film apart.
Running 129 minutes, the movie is a little on the long side. Parts of it could have been tightened up slightly, just to keep the pace flowing. Beyond that, The Unthinkable is a worthy new entry in the disaster genre. Boasting strong performances, good visual effects (achieved on a mere $2 million budget), and a story that's observant about fractured relationships, it aims high and hits the mark most of the time.
out of four
The Unthinkable is unrated, but contains adult language and some violence. The running time is 2 hours and 9 minutes.