'The Unthinkable' ('Den blomstertid nu kommer'): Film Review

Courtesy of Crazy Pictures
An impressively made low-budget disaster epic.

This sprawling doomsday movie from the Swedish collective Crazy Pictures premiered at the Paris International Fantastic Film Festival.

What’s most unthinkable about the Swedish doomsday thriller The Unthinkable (Den blomstertid nu kommer) is how it was ever made for a mere $2 million, with a portion of the funds raised on Kickstarter. Incredibly well crafted and epic in the way of a Hollywood movie that would easily cost 10 or 20 times that figure, this imposing first feature from the five-man collective known as Crazy Pictures deserves a visit — especially from studio execs hoping to draw fresh talent into their clutches.

Highly ambitious if overlong and a bit overstuffed, The Unthinkable is a weighty tale of love, disaster, child abuse, acid rain, artistic creation, evil Russians, extreme car crashes and exploding helicopters, among other phenomena. It packs everything but the kitchen sink (though it does bring the entire Swedish government) into a two-hour-plus survival story that mostly keeps you on the edge of your seat, especially once the bravura action scenes kick in and you start wondering how the heck the filmmakers pulled them off. (A video on Kickstarter gives away some of the magic.)

Bought by Wild Bunch in France and screening in competition at the Paris International Fantastic Film Festival, the film could draw scattered theatrical viewers in a few markets and more eyes online. Any distributor who picks it up should boast about how the movie was shot for what's basically the catering budget of a single Marvel blockbuster, if not way less than that.

Hopping between a handful of characters who cross paths as Sweden falls prey to both a mysterious foreign invasion and a climatic catastrophe — there are hints that Russia, of course, is behind everything, with the closing credits providing a tongue-in-cheek kicker — the story begins with a flashback showing the extremely turbulent relationship between a conspiracy theory-prone father, Bjorn (Jesper Barkselius) and his nebbish, musically gifted son, Alex (Christoffer Nordenrot, who also co-wrote the script).

The two live together in the middle of the countryside, with Alex suffering constant abuse at the hands of his dad while timidly courting a local gal, Anna (Lisa Henni), who loves music as much as he does but doesn’t seem to love him. When Alex’s mom finally decides to walk out on the household, Bjorn gets even more uncontrollably violent with his son. Soon enough, Alex runs away to Stockholm, where he will try to make it on his own as a musician.

Cut to more than a decade later: Alex is now a famous, if rather pompous, composer (his work sounds like watered-down Philip Glass) who receives a phone call informing him that his mother has died. Meanwhile — and this is a big meanwhile — there have been multiple bombings around central Stockholm, one of them destroying a major bridge. At the same time, Bjorn, who works in an electricity distribution center back in the country, starts to see signs of a looming enemy attack.

There are even more narrative threads woven into the fabric, including one involving Anna’s mom, who is a public official trying to escape a city in flames, eventually taking refuge in a clandestine army base. The directors slowly but surely tie all the plot points and characters together, although they tend to overreach by trying to mix an emotionally hefty love story with a tumultuous father-son story with an end-of-the-world/World War III story, sort of like a Scandi Magnolia meets Invasion U.S.A.

Yet The Unthinkable works, mostly, because of the impressively high level of skill that the Crazy Pictures team brings to the table, whether through the gorgeous rain-soaked vistas of the gloomy Swedish countryside, the rhythmic editing that connects all the narrative dots or the handful of spectacular set-pieces highlighting the action.

Two of these are worth pointing out: The first, which takes place on a foggy bridge in Stockholm, involves a four-to-five car pileup that’s as spooky as it is jarring, catching the viewer off-guard several times. The second involves yet more cars, a bunch of people on the run and a fleet of crashing helicopters. Oh, and there’s also a breathtaking nighttime firefight between squadrons of clashing soldiers, as well as a brief airplane-helicopter battle that’s like something out of Hell’s Angels.

Again, it's quite astonishing that all of this was done with next-to-nothing on such a huge scale, and The Unthinkable ultimately reveals how well the filmmakers can ratchet up the tension from sequence to sequence and then release it in creative, jaw-dropping bursts of bravura action. Far from a lesson in less is more, the movie is a textbook example of how talent, craft and ingenuity can give you more and more — albeit perhaps too much at times — with so little.  

Production company: Crazy Pictures
Cast: Christoffer Nordenrot, Lisa Henni, Jesper Barkselius, Pia Halvorsen, Magnus Sundberg
Director: Crazy Pictures
Screenwriters: Crazy Pictures, Christoffer Nordenrot
Producers: Albin Petterson, Olle Tholen
Director of photography: Crazy Pictures
Production designer: Crazy Pictures
Editor: Crazy Pictures
Composer: Gustaf Spetz
Sales: SF Studios

In Swedish
129 minutes