“Unthinkable” is, conveniently, the perfect way to describe The Unthinkable, a brash, bold, film directed by a five-man Swedish film collective called Crazy Pictures. It’s a movie that’s wildly, comically unpredictable in ways that are both very good and very bad.
The Unthinkable begins with Alex (Christoffer Nordenrot) and Anna (Lisa Henni), two teenagers flirting with the first instincts of love, though circumstances and their families unfortunately drive them apart. That’s where the movie starts, as a light, melodramatic teen romance. From there it jumps ahead, catching up with Alex maybe 10-15 years later. Though he’s a very successful musician, he harbours a deep resentment thanks to a terrible relationship with his father, Björn (Jesper Barkselius) — so the film pivots to a father/son drama. However, as we start to get invested in that story, bad things start happening. There are some bombings, some deaths, and mysterious military exercises, and slowly but surely what started as a love story and became a family drama switches into a survival film, then an action movie, and finally a full-blown sci-fi disaster movie.
If those sound like radical, bizarre leaps, that’s because they are. At almost all times, The Unthinkable feels like four or five stories in direct competition with one another. At any moment, one is going to burst into the lead and steal the spotlight. Which, eventually, happens. And we know this because the film starts to become a symphony of car crashes. Yes, you read that right.
There are so many car crashes in The Unthinkable it begins to feel like a 1970s action movie. It’s absurd. And yet, it’s also kind of awesome, because the Crazy Pictures team obviously loves car crashes, executes them well, and uses them as narrative markers in very interesting ways. It’s just, you know, kind of out of place within the story of these characters, these families, and this mysterious disaster.
Rain, people hurt, car crashes, mysterious tunnels, yup. Photo: Fantastic Fest
Once enough car crashes have occurred to put the film back on track, though, things really do start to come together. We get answers as to why all these bad things are happening. Characters who have been apart reunite and you can begin to see why the story was as meandering as it was. The potential to bring it home in a big, beautiful way is there. But the film has a giant flaw: You basically hate all its characters.
In The Unthinkable, sympathetic characters are about as hard to come by as an uncrashed car. Alex is spiteful and terrible at communication, traits he learned from his father, who’s even worse. Anna is a liar, Alex’s mum is self-centred, the list goes on and on. And the film demands that we care about these characters as it constantly puts them in precarious, potentially heroic situations. Maybe those situations are even meant to redeem them — but it’s just too little, too late. By the time The Unthinkable gets to its impressive and cool third act, there’s just little to no emotional connection. We’re just watching the story unfold out of obligation.
This is a shame because The Unthinkable looks great. It’s incredibly ambitious and beautiful, and is filled with fantastic ideas, but also questionable choices. The whole movie feels like the filmmakers never thought they’d make a movie ever again and decided to put all of their brainstorming into a single story without pausing to consider that it needed a few more rewrites to add some much-needed cohesion. The backbone is there, but it never quite comes together, and we’re left with a mess of a film that’s not very good, but is nevertheless interesting because of its mess. Which, in itself, is kind of unthinkable.
The Unthinkable was released this summer in Sweden but had its international debut at Fantastic Fest 2018.