The Unthinkable (2018) Screamfest Review

The name of the film is The Unthinkable.

And I will say right off the bat – it would be unthinkable for any audience member to be less than enamored with the experience this remarkable film bestows.

The Swedish title is Den blomstertid nu kommer, which is an old Swedish hymn, apparently sung by children. It’s rough translation: “Let your mind blossom anew”.

The Unthinkable held its US Premiere at this year’s Screamfest (the 18th Annual) in Los Angeles. It was the closing night film, and after 10 days of a mixed bag of feature and short films, it was well worth the wait.

Following his mother’s exodus from a failing marriage, teenaged Alex (co-writer Christoffer Nordenrot) tries to tough it out with his abusive and conspiracy theory-obsessed father Bjorn (Jesper Barkselius). With his true love Anna (Lisa Henni) moving away and his family life deteriorating, Alex abruptly leaves his rural hometown and moves to the big city. Jump ahead about a decade later and Alex is a successful pianist, but he longs for Anna and the small hamlet he once knew. When apparent terrorist attacks rock Stockholm – Alex rushes back to his hometown to hopefully find Anna, and in the midst of an “unthinkable” crisis overtaking the entire country, he just might meet up with his lonely and damaged father.

As much as I love – what I’ve heard termed “disaster porn” (i.e. The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, The Poseidon Adventure), I’ve never seen a film of this particular sub-genre, done with such grace, such beauty and with so much focus on character.

The awesome strength of the film is really two-fold. Nothing really happens in the first 40 minutes or so, other than delicious, interesting and engaging character development. The film takes its time to introduce, build and beautify the characters and their very complex relationships. And with this – my broken record continues to skip – this putting of characters first, serves to make an audience love and cherish these people, so when their world comes crumbling down (literally) and they are put in terrifying peril, we’ll care – and we’ll care deeply.

What a novel idea.

And truly the tepid father/son relationship illustrated here is one of the most powerful I’ve seen in my history of watching movies. I have a non-existent relationship with my biological father, and lost my stepfather over a decade ago. So there’s something especially touching to me personally, in the way this bond is broken and rebuilt – something to which I regrettably no longer have access. If the chemistry and difficulty between Alex and Bjorn doesn’t break your heart apart – I’d have to venture a guess that you just don’t have one.

As Alex (in both times) Christoffer Nordenrot must play the same character at two distinct ages. At times withdrawn, at times angry, and at times simply in love – Alex runs the gamut of emotions – and who wouldn’t, based on what the character has faced in the past and must now soldier through in the present? Nordenrot wrote the script as well, so it feels like he has an easy-in when discovering what Alex is all about. He knows every single inch of Alex’s inner-most thoughts – and it all comes out in his grand performance. Alex is sort of an outcast in his community and takes on an almost autistic quality in his adult music-making. Nordenrot gets that and more. In a film full of action highlights, suspense and amazing effects – Nordenrot brings it all home (to what’s important) with a beautifully detailed, thoughtful and heartbreaking performance.

Jesper Barkselious as Bjorn, Alex’s father – gives what I would call an Oscar-worthy performance. I could see him standing tall atop a list of other fine thespians, waiting to take the prize for Best Supporting Actor. He’s that good. To so deftly show off the faults of a veteran with PTSD, trying so hard to protect his family, hardly knowing that his obsessive behavior is actually destroying them… And then when he does see his issues clearly, he falls into frustration and anger and despair.  You feel deeply for this character.

They are exceedingly hard to come by these days, but The Unthinkable managed to bring me to the edge of my seat (literally) for a good portion of its 129 minute run-time. There were scenes of such unrelenting intensity that the three other souls experiencing the film with me – the whole line of us were screeching, jumping and squealing several “no way’s!”. A casual observer might have believed that we were somehow smitten with the film. And they would be right.

There are too many standout set pieces to discuss here (they would contain spoilers anyway), but nothing can possibly top a sequence atop a bridge in Stockholm, as one character attempts to flee the city. One thing after another will have you reacting as my friends and I did. And it just kept going — painfully (and deliciously) so.

This is a symptom of the film as a whole – it’s merciless, in so many ways… and I love it for that unrelenting pace. I also love the fact that you will never really know where this film is headed.

That being said, there is the slightest of dips in the pacing somewhere in the second act – where Anna’s mother Eva (Pia Halvorsen) reaches a military bunker – but this lasts only a few moments. Once it quickly rebounds, the film returns to its rapid and unforgiving pace.

The film perfectly – and within plain sight – sets up important character objects which will no doubt come into play – symbols of greater themes. And while it was obvious, I cared so much about the characters holding these items, I didn’t give it a second thought.

The score from Gustaf Spetz reminded me of the haunting work of Hans Zimmer, for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. The music here is lush (music is a central plot-point after all), heart-wrenching and when need be – gut-wrenchingly terrifying. This is a soundtrack I would happily add to my collection.

While I marked The Unthinkable – in my end of Screamfest wrap-up (read the entire article here) – as my second place “Best of Fest” feature, just behind the equally stunning Tumbbad (review forthcoming) – it was truly a bloody inner battle to determine which one would come out on top – as they’re both stunning pieces of cinematic art.

The film took home only one award from this year’s Screamfest – a trophy for the film’s special effects – richly deserved.

With authentically painful character relationships, matched with stunning performances, jaw-dropping production values and a mind-blowing build-up of tension, there’s no way I can offer up anything less than a perfect, 5-star rating for the Swedish import, The Unthinkable.

The film is breathless. It’s gorgeous. It’s unnerving. It’s heartbreaking. It’s a masterpiece. To sum up everything discussed here: I love, love, love this film! Can you tell?

The Unthinkable is still playing the festival circuit, but you should certainly keep your eyes open for a wider release. It’s a do-not-miss!

Oh, and I do see that it’s received distribution in some international markets, but I can’t find word of a US release – yet.

One last time – to pass this film by, would be simply unthinkable.

Okay, now I’m done.

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