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-[Film Reviews]-, European Cinema

‘Black Crab’ (2022): A Quality Netflix Show on Ice

Directed by: Adam Berg || Produced by: Mail Idevall, Mattias Montero

Screenplay by: Adam Berg, Pelle Rådström || Starring: Noomi Rapace, Aliette Opheim, Dar Salim, Jakob Oftebro, Ardalan Esmaili, David Dencik

Music by: Dead People || Cinematography: Jonas Alarik || Edited by: Kristofer Nordin || Country: Sweden || Language: Swedish

Running Time: 114 minutes

In April 2022, Netflix, the world’s first major streaming platform and by far the largest in terms of subscribership as of this writing, lost subscribers for the first time since 2011, a time before the company had produced or distributed a single platform exclusive (i.e. a “Netflix Original“). Articles and reddit threads discussingand in some cases mocking — the development sprouted left and right like weeds in an abandoned dirt yard, with hypothesized reasons for the loss in viewership including:

  • Recent hikes in membership costs
  • Increased competition from major Hollywood studios launching their own streaming services (e.g. Disney+, Peacock, Paramount Plus, HBO Max, etc.)
  • Loss of popular non-exclusive content (e.g. The Office [2005-2013], Friends [1994-2004]) to those aforementioned burgeoning rival services
  • An emphasis on quantity of Netflix Original programming over quality of releases in recent years
  • Password sharing between different households
  • The alleged outdatedness of their binge-watching business model
  • Their overzealous cancellation of many shows after one or two seasons

Top: Black Crab’s effective lighting techniques emphasize the desolate yet also playful tone of its ice-skating sequences. Bottom: The film’s first and third acts showcase great production values with believable post-apocalyptic backdrops and militarized scenery.

Even newcomers to this site will soon learn I’m a fan of Netflix and the general modern trend of long-running series, limited or mini-series, and feature films distributed exclusively via streaming video on demand (SVOD). While I’ll concede the best of the best shows have been HBO’s influential flagship properties — your Sopranos (1999-2007), your Wire (2002-2008), your Game of Thrones (2011-2019) — my streaming platform of choice for the past several years has been and for the conceivable future will be Netflix, even despite my partial agreement with some of those above reasons for why Netflix’s stock has fallen.

Why? Because (1) as a fan of physical media (i.e. 4K and 2K Blu-Rays), I don’t need most Hollywood studio-based streaming subscriptions (everything’s already on a hard copy of far superior quality in my collection), (2) I never cared for watching 5+ seasons of longwinded television when most series have crappy or disappointing endings anyway, and (3) no other major SVOD service comes closes to Netflix’s international/non-Anglophone content, including and especially their non-English language feature-films (e.g. The Divines [2016], The Call [2020], Oxygen [2021], Bulbbul [2020], The Platform [2019], The Wolf’s Call [2019], The Night Comes for Us [2018]) and limited series (My Name [2021], Alice in Borderland [2020, 2022], The Green Frontier [2019], Delhi Crime [2019], Sacred Games [2018-2019]).

Adam Berg’s directorial debut, Black Crab, a dystopian action-thriller set in the Scandinavian arctic and lead Noomi Rapace’s first Swedish production in about a decade, is yet another quality Netflix Original Film produced outside the domestic North American (US-Canada) market. Set in a dystopian, war-ravaged Sweden beset by either homegrown extremist groups or external warring parties (specific nation-states and real-life locations are never named), Black Crab follows a covert mission by Rapace and costars to transport a weapon of mass destruction across a frozen archipelago in enemy territory to an allied base a hundred kilometers away. The movie’s principle gimmick is our cast’s Scandinavian mode of transportation, ice-skating (the frozen waters are apparently too thin for vehicles, while I assume naval operations were unavailable), which adds a layer of fun, suspenseful unpredictability to most action scenes where characters must avoid drowning to an icy grave.

It’s hard to overstate how much Black Crab benefits from both its set-design as well as its natural backdrops. The first act’s collection of dilapidated villages, urban decay, and militarized encampments are convincing and set a dour, serious tone upon which the rest of the story delivers; Act Two, meanwhile, provides most of the film’s money shots whereby Rapace and company skate across beautiful yet haunting ice shelves against a variety of day and nighttime scenes, most of which appear to be naturally lit. I won’t spoil the final act, but the movie’s environment shifts one last time and in way that both aides the pace of the narrative and provides a neat, dramatic conclusion to the arduous journey that came before.

With regards to its overall story, Black Crab stays away from superfluous diegetic details about the causes, development, and principle figures of the greater conflict and focuses on the character-driven aspects of its military plot to the movie’s benefit. Rapace’s personal motivation for completing the mission is well developed and bolstered by effective yet brief flashbacks, while chemistry with costars like Jakob Oftebro are memorable and develop in ways most audiences won’t expect.

In one of Black Crab’s more creative sequences, three of our heroes navigate a region of thin ice by crawling on all fours and tying themselves together with rope.

While I’m sad Netflix cancels things I enjoy like, say, The Dark Crystal (2019) or La Révolution (2020), the platform has more than made that up for me with its sheer variety of international feature-film productions like Adam Berg and Noomi Rapace’s Black Crab. One of the more beautiful cinematographic showcases in its library, Black Crab neither feels the need for bloated action spectacle nor boring, dreary wartime drama that wallows in misery for no reason. It’s the sort of would-be theatrical release I often say Hollywood doesn’t make anymore even if they could produce it in English, the sort of film distribution for which I don’t think Netflix gets enough credit. To put things in perspective, I think much of the conversation around Netflix’s “inevitable decline” is a function of the Anglophone media forgetting how much filmmaking occurs in other languages, including online. The service’s international reach is much greater than just House of Paper (2017-2021) and Squid Game (2021-).

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SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: As much as I may sound like a “shill” for Netflix at times, my enjoyment of the service is genuine given how often they distribute quality non-English language titles like Black Crab. The film embraces both its native Swedish arctic landscape as well as its star Noomi Rapace’s legacy of relatable, realistic action-heroines, utilizing naturally lit location-photography to portray a neat, well paced military thriller with a range of tense set-pieces. It’s good-looking, well written, and under 2 hours long. That sounds like a winner to me.

However… viewers expecting plot details to be spoon-fed to them will be frustrated by Black Crab’s lack of exposition, while I found the ragtag group of soldiers falling one by one in the second act too predictable.

—> RECOMMENDED for a frozen and intriguing, if not feelgood time.

? So, how far did this quasi-apocalyptic civil war extend outside of Sweden? Doesn’t matter!

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.

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