Arts + Scene » Screens

Black Crab's Icy Terrain



BLACK CRAB. When the world's bleakness is inescapable as it has been of late, even fewer actors have the power to lure me into an apocalyptic landscape, a gritty wartime drama or even a setting that's a little chilly looking. Such is the supernatural draw of Noomi Rapace, who pulled me into a trifecta of these detractions for Black Crab, director Adam Berg's gutting Swedish language, futuristic action drama about an elite team of soldiers trying to end a brutal war with a hail Mary mission across the frozen sea. On skates. It came out on Netflix in March and I held out as long as I could.

Rapace, who seems alternately carved from bone and all sweaty sinew, can have an animal stillness that threatens to burst into violence or trembling collapse, often delineating the tissue-thin border between the two. In the Swedish adaptation of Steig Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) and its sequels, she's the power goth embodiment of vengeful coolness and desperation, intensifying as her eyebrows gradually disappear from one film to the next. All these are qualities Ridley Scott draws upon in his prestige Alien prequel Prometheus (2012), where Rapace plays a scientist precursor to Sigourney Weaver's Ripley. But I find I like her best as an action heroine or seven (in 2017's What Happened to Monday, she played septuplets living underground in a dystopia that didn't do sibling rivalry any favors). Close (2019) shows her action chops best as a bodyguard who goes from the battlefield to protecting an oil heiress on the run from a hit squad in Morocco. Here, Rapace's fast, economical moves give a balance of skill and strain more exciting than what we're used to in, say, Matt Damon in the Bourne Identity franchise, with a depth of character that comes more from her subtle expressiveness than the fairly thin script. It's an utter mystery to me why we're not given the Rapace/Charlize Theron head-to-head action movie we deserve. Unless we don't deserve it. And while I've yet to see last year's disturbing looking Lamb, if Rapace wants to raise a creepy, wooly child on her Icelandic farm, I say we let her.

In Black Crab, steely soldier Caroline Edh (Rapace) is plucked from a grim, wintry, urban battlefield rumbling somewhere in the future but looking far too much like a Ukranian steel mill for comfort, to join a special squad that will a carry mysterious package across the frozen Stockholm Archipelago to Ödö, a military research facility on the other side. The squad will ice skate by night to avoid detection, transporting a supposedly war-ending pair of slim boxes. Edh, who knows the territory and is less sure whom to trust, declares it suicidal. Still, she throws herself into the mission with fervor when she learns she'll be reunited with her adolescent daughter Vanya in Ödö. She keeps her motivation secret from her comrades, whose enthusiasm ranges from the resigned Malik (Dar Salim) to Karimi's (Ardalan Esmaili) skirting desertion. There are skirmishes in the snow, cracking ice and freezing waters below, haunting scenes of the frozen dead and firefights belly-down on the ice in the dark. And throughout, none are so ruthless or focused on the end goal as Edh, even when the contents of their cargo are revealed, pitting her against Nylund (Jakob Oftebro), about whom she's already had doubts.

The eerie nighttime skating across the black and snow-blown ice makes one wonder if we're still on earth, as do brief, dreamy scenes of Rapace diving under it. The war is abstract in its cause and ideology — no countries or causes are discussed, only the bloody, brutal individual reality of what we do and what we become under its strain and destruction. The soldiers are suspicious of one another and reel with the knowledge that either side, theirs or the enemy, is capable of the worst atrocities (the effectively shot evidence of which is not for the faint of heart). Edh's flashbacks/dreams of washing Vanya's hair and keeping her calm while hiding from marauding soldiers begin in contrast with the misery and isolation of the present. But we come to see how the care she gives as a mother morphs into myopic determination — how soothing Vanya with her hands is on the same continuum with stabbing a man in the neck with a blade in her frostbitten fingers to protect her. Maternal love propels Edh across the ice and past pain and exhaustion, and, while that love offers redemption, it's a force as terrifying as anything in the cold dark. TVMA. 114M. NETFLIX.

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.


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For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.

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