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Thinking up 'The Unthinkable'

May 7, 2021
5 min read time

The Unthinkable can be described as an existential disaster film.

It tells the story of a troubled pianist in Sweden who must return to his childhood village as the country is under attack by a nebulous foreign threat. These attacks extend to the village and the power grid where his estranged and paranoid father, who has been preparing for the worst, works.

Also in this village is Alex’s old flame Anna, who he still has unrequited feelings for. As the characters do their best to survive, they struggle with their repressed emotions and unresolved relationship issues. Ultimately, these struggles prove to be the heart of the film.

Victor Danell and Albin Pettersson are members of Crazy Pictures, a Swedish film collective of five friends who take equal parts in various roles of film production; director, producer, scriptwriter, director of photography, production designer, costume designer, sound designer, visual FX, and special effects.

They’ve had previous success with their short films screened by millions on YouTube, as well as at film festivals around the world. The Unthinkable is the collective’s first feature film, and it’s a testament to the collaborative nature and spirit of filmmaking that oftentimes gets overshadowed by directors and proponents of the auteur theory. That being said, it’s only natural that certain members of Crazy Pictures lean toward certain roles during development and production.

“We work very close together, the five of us, but we kind of have our main areas where we focus on,” Pettersson said.

“We work very close together in all elements and all facets of film production, but of course everyone has their own responsibilities.”

According to Danell, the friends started to make films together at a young age.

“We grew up together. Albin and I grew up in the same little town here in Sweden," he said.

"Making films is our passion. It’s what we love to do and that we can do it for a living is like a dream. So, making films together is the natural way for us to do things. It’s the most fun way to do films. It’s the most collaborative way and it’s the most rewarding way.”

It got "strange" when all members of the collective were putting the same amount of time into projects, Pettersson added.

"And then it’s kind of more important who did what. And I think we had a reaction to that and said, 'Yeah. We’re making pictures and we’re going to do this together.' We don’t care who’s doing what. We all come from playing in rock bands, and I think we’re seeing ourselves more like a band," he said.

Amidst COVID-19, it’s impossible to watch groups of people having to seek shelter and come together during a national crisis onscreen and not think of the virus that shook and changed our world; viewers might assume the foreign attack in the film is a pandemic metaphor. Interestingly, however, The Unthinkable was conceived and filmed before COVID.

“The idea for the film came pretty long ago and in Sweden, where we first presented the idea, people were laughing at us because doing a disaster film in Sweden, are you nuts? Because we don’t have any enemies here. This would never happen," Pettersson said.

"But during development of the film, the world had changed a lot and there were more terror attacks and more conflicts erupting between countries. When we first came up with the idea, it was more like a fantasy; but when we were shooting the film, it was more of a reality, which is not that great of course. And now COVID also adds a new dimension that you can see in the film." 

Even though there are a couple theories stated in the film, the origin of the foreign attacks is never explicitly confirmed or given a distinct face. This is one of the reasons the attacks seem to operate on a metaphoric or allegorical level at times. Danell elaborated on this:

"The idea was to take the theme of this old disaster genre and put the audience in the shoes of the ordinary people and ask themselves the question, 'What would I do if something like this would happen?' The actual threat they are facing, it’s not the important thing in the movie. We wanted the enemy to move in the shadows. I think it’s even more scary that way.”

The film’s lead actor Christoffer Nordenrot co-wrote the screenplay with Crazy Pictures over a period of several years. When asked about his role in the writing, Danell and Pettersson had the following to say:

"[Nordenrot] was on it from the beginning. We had this idea of making Sweden under attacks and presented the idea to him, and then we went off together and wrote the script."

It wasn't the first time Crazy Pictures and Nordenrot collaborated.

"We worked with Christoffer on a bunch of short films before and he has been a scriptwriter for almost all of them. He has also been playing the lead character in a lot of the films that we have been making, too. So, he’s a good friend we have been working with a lot,” Danell and Pettersson said.

"He makes the directing of the movie really easy because he knows the character and the movie just as we do. So, it was a breeze to work with him on this one." 

Although The Unthinkable is sure to satisfy those looking for suspense and thrills, its more character-driven than your typical disaster film or thriller that comes out of Hollywood; the overriding theme being fractured families and unresolved relationships. The biggest question the film asks is will the national crisis lead to a reconciliation of these relationships, or are they beyond repair? Thus, the emotional stakes are even higher than the physical threats posed in the film. But how much of this comes from personal experience?

“I think it always starts personal, on a personal level,” Danell said.

"And then the movie evolves over several years and in the end, it’s not really that much of a personal thing. But at the core of the movie it’s a lot of personal stuff that we were all going through. But things evolve over time and the movie goes in the way the movie wants to go." 

The Unthinkable is a great example of a film with a strong emotional throughline. These emotions are not only visceral, they resonate with authenticity. When asked to give a tip to writers looking to write more emotionally compelling characters, Danell imparted the following advice:

"Start with something personal. Start with something that you’ve been going through privately — maybe too privately — and it feels scary to put on paper. Start with something personal because then it’s true. It’s for real.”

The Unthinkable is available in theaters and on demand.

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