Black Crab is a mishmash of apocalyptic signifiers and sci-fi recency without ever establishing much of a core.
The world has ended a few times over in Adam Berg’s Black Crab: all-consuming civil war, global warming abetted eternal winters, post-apocalyptic societal fallout, the bubbling threat of chemical warfare. Within this rushed grab-bag of dystopian signifiers is the archetypal human element, embodied by Noomi Rapace’s figure skater turned supersoldier, who agrees to a veritable suicide mission under the pretense that her kidnapped daughter will be found safely on the other side. Caroline (Rapace) and five other recruits are to move laterally alongside enemy lines, across a frozen lake previously thought impassable — the prerequisites for those enlisted hinge mostly on their respective ice skating skills — in possession of a conspiratorial whatsit, forbidden from being opened by any of its carriers.
Berg’s film rarely inspires anything beyond a distanced recognition of his shallow pastiche, parceling out visual and thematic features of everything from Cloverfield to District 9 to Snowpiercer to Resident Evil: Retribution (the latter perhaps the only admirable influence). If anything, Black Crab can be considered one of the first science-fiction films of this new decade that treats the aughts and tens as hallowed ground, rather than the ideological mishmash it often was, which explains the director’s proclivity for accessorizing the inherent politics of the scenario, characters oscillating between mouthpieces and cannon fodder. The civilian spaces are overrun by a violent, zombielike populace; the military bases are stages for generals to wax philosophical bullshit. Black Crab’s seriousness is almost impressively stultifying, especially for something predicated on ice-skating soldiers.
Those ice-skating scenes are the only intervals where it feels as if some air is let into the film, where the camera isn’t restricted by all the stiff, one-note conversation, and instead glides along in concert with the cast. This first bout of skating comes when the crew’s base of origin is suddenly bombed, and they escape like silhouetted hockey players atop the ice, illuminated only by the explosions in the background. Of course, such fluid direction only manifests fitfully, as the six soldiers often pause within regrettably digital landscapes to once again argue over their mission and intent. Berg would do better to foreground the oneiric, like the half-sunk nightclub encased in ice that’s discovered in the second half, but these flourishes are mostly employed to once again furnish the all-encompassing idea of apocalypse, as if the dominating slate-grays and dilapidated cityscapes of just the opening ten minutes weren’t enough.
Despite Caroline’s personal reasons for crossing the ice, Black Crab remains painfully noncommittal in terms of interiority, save for a convenient flashback. It’s like the flipside of Anna Kavan’s Ice, a novel which used similar sci-fi building blocks to retreat further into a singular obsession that nevertheless elucidated the decaying state of its world. Caroline’s own plight is entirely exclusive to the bulk of the film, but Berg can’t stop himself from insisting it is, and it’s harder to believe him every time.