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Netflix’s Latest Thriller Puts a Scandinavian Spin on the Disaster Movie

Sweden has given us a good movie about why you should never visit Sweden.

Written by Jon O'Brien
Originally Published: 
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Having watched their Norwegian neighbors make a decent stab at the Hollywood-style disaster movie with a loosely related trilogy of films about avalanches (The Wave), earthquakes (The Quake), and oil rig explosions (The Burning Sea), Sweden decided to get in on the action themselves last year with The Abyss (or Avgrunden, if you don’t want to get confused with James Cameron’s similarly perilous underwater epic). And they didn’t have to look far for inspiration, either.

Out now on Netflix six months after being released in Scandinavia, the quasi-blockbuster is set in the real-life Kiruna, the country’s northernmost town, which in 2014 had to slowly start moving three kilometers east due to the threat of mining subsidence. But with the area’s possible structural collapse still decades away, The Abyss is the only chance many of us will get to witness the carnage that may or may not eventually unfold.

This modern-day tale may have sped up the rippling effects of the world’s largest iron ore mine, an apocalyptic development recently covered in the documentary A Brand New World. However, best known for his work within Sweden’s televisual forte – the brooding, rain-soaked, and woolly-jumpered crime dramas known as Nordic noir – director Richard Holm (The Machinery, Gåsmamman) is just as interested in the cracks of suburban life. Indeed, apart from the foreshadowing opening scene in which three teenage hikers fatally plummet through the earth, The Abyss’ slow-burning first half plays out more like a family saga.

Portrayed by Tuva Novotny, whose English-language credits include Borg vs McEnroe and Annihilation, workaholic single mom Frigga is juggling her job as the Kiirunavaara mine’s security manager and the rivalry between her new lover Dabir (Kardo Razzazi) and ex-husband Tage (Peter Franzen). Daughter Mika (Felicia Truedsson) and her girlfriend (Tintin Poggatts Sarri) are busy blocking roads in local protests, while son Simon (Edvin Ryding) is rebelling in the wake of his parents’ divorce.

One key player in the serviceable disaster movie/uninvolving family saga.

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It’s a move typical of Sweden’s occasional forays into disaster movie territory. Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure and Triangle of Sadness, for example, both centered around, rather than focused on, devastating natural occurrences, and 2018’s The Unthinkable threw elements of surrealism, melodrama, and military conflict into its state of emergency.

Unfortunately, The Abyss doesn’t possess the pitch-black humor of the former: the only real laugh comes when Frigga knocks out a hyperventilating Tage during their underground reconnaissance. And it lacks the compelling characters of the latter, with only the family’s no-nonsense matriarch making any notable impression. Young Royals fans, in particular, will be left disappointed that Ryding, who plays the dashing prince in Netflix’s queer teen drama, is required to do little more than sulk.

The residents of Kiruna run for cover.

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Luckily, Holm, who also co-wrote the script with son Robin, fares better when the film finally kicks into gear with the sight of a crooked lamppost and a young toddler nearly pulled into a pit of quicksand. Anyone with a fear of spelunking should prepare for deeply claustrophobic cave scenes that evoke The Descent, The 33, and even, thanks to a stray hand rising from a mountain of rubble, the closing shot of Carrie. Anyone with a severe case of vertigo, meanwhile, should brace for the climactic rescue involving a pulley system, several pretty brutal impalings, and a sinkhole the size of a skyscraper.

Most impressive is the terrifying sequence when all hell breaks loose as the town center is literally rocked to its foundations, with a frustratingly jammed car seatbelt, motherless stroller, and increasingly powerful tsunami of debris and dust all ramping up the tension. It’s clearly evident The Abyss doesn’t have the same budget or wealth of VFX talent at its disposal as the average Tinseltown B-movie, yet it makes the most of its limited resources.

Divorcees Tage and Frigga just before the mining expedition from hell.

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And as you’d expect from a nation that prides itself on humility, it doesn’t stretch the boundaries of credulity, either. The Abyss is the kind of lean disaster film that gets in and out without unnecessarily destroying any major landmarks or obliterating entire populations. Its most destructive set-piece lasts barely five minutes, and while there are a handful of notable fatalities, the body count is far from cataclysmic.

The Roland Emmerichs of this world can rest assured the Swedes aren’t going to muscle in on their territory any time soon. But for those who prefer their disaster flicks without so much bombast, then this abyss is worth peeking into.

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