Noomi Rapace found international success with the release of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy (2009), and she’s stayed busy in the years since with films that more often than not lean towards genre. Prometheus (2012), Lamb (2021), and The Trip (2021) are among the highlights, and now she returns to her homeland for the Swedish action film, Black Crab. Yeah, the title’s a misstep, but the film itself is a small-scale effort that feels bigger than it is thanks to striking visuals and thought-provoking ideas.
Caroline Edh (Rapace) is driving with her daughter when traffic stalls and gunshots echo from the tunnel ahead. Soon gunmen begin targeting cars and their occupants, and when they reach Edh her world goes black. An unspecified amount of time later, she’s a soldier fighting in a civil war that’s erupted in Sweden. The political beliefs and motivations of either side are left unstated, but it’s clear that the country has collapsed beneath the weight and chaos of war. Edh is brought in with a small group of others for an important mission that her superiors promise will end the war for good — they’re to traverse a frozen lake on ice skates, secure two small canisters from a base to the north, and then transport them to the front lines. She knows it’s a suicide mission, but the promise that her daughter is waiting at the final destination is all the motivation she needs to tackle the mission without question.
Black Crab — a poor title for an action film, but one that refers to the mission the soldiers embark on — keeps the spectacle limited while still delivering some intense action beats along the way. We never see large-scale combat, but it’s more than evident that the entire country is at war. Director Adam Berg, who also co-writes with Pelle Rådström (an adaptation of Jerker Virdborg‘s novel), finds energy and beauty in what could have been a silly detail as the film’s skating scenes take on a power of their own.
This is no Prayer of the Rollerboys (1990), the post-apocalyptic goofball of a movie starring Corey Haim as a rollerskating warrior for the future, as instead it takes the ice skating very seriously. It lets the small team move near enemy lines with lesser odds of drawing attention, and the shots of them skating against skies filled with the sights and sounds of war are striking. Just as impressive are the sequences that play out in near silence with only the sound of metal slicing through ice to accompany visuals showing the unit on the move. Cinematographer Jonas Alarik does fantastic work capturing the solitude and isolation out on the nighttime ice — a scene showing them come across hundreds of civilians frozen in the ice, the victims of a sinking ship left to float and die, is hauntingly beautiful — and he shifts gears effortlessly when the volume cranks up to the sound of gunfire.
Action scenes hit in short bursts, both from engagements with enemy soldiers and an attack from above, and succeed at keeping Black Crab in the action movie camp. A helicopter targets them on the ice leading to a frenetic effort to fight and flee, and a later sequence on a hillside ups the intensity even more as they first attack an enemy bunker and are then forced to defend it. The film lacks the scale and budget to pull off big set-pieces, but the smaller beats that punctuate the film keep the blood flowing.
Black Crab, like many war films, has thoughts on the nature of war, and they balance well with the action and plot-oriented sequences. The morality of killing — enemy combatants, civilians, indiscriminately — takes center stage as truths about the mission are revealed. The film challenges its characters in interesting ways when it comes to both the motivations for their actions and the cost of those same choices. Performances are solid across the board, but Rapace once again goes all in for her turn as a woman with little to live for but plenty of anger to fuel that life all the same.
As Netflix Original Films go, Black Crab avoids the cg bloat of US-made action films for the streamer — I’m looking at you 6 Underground (2019) and Red Notice (2021) — to deliver smaller, more entertaining beats balanced out with character and story. It’s bound to get far less attention because of it (well, for that and the need for subtitles) which is a damn shame. Fans of smaller, more thought-provoking action films should give it a spin.