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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Reel Rundown: Swedish disaster film ‘The Abyss’ is second-rate at best

Kardo Razzazi as Dabir, Felicia Maxime as Mica in “The Abyss.”  (Netflix)
By Dan Webster For The Spokesman-Review

Several years ago, while standing in line to see a movie at the Sundance Film Festival, I began talking to a guy who told me he represented a European film distribution company. He explained that his firm was desperate for what he called “product.”

And by “product” he meant anything he could buy that could then be turned around and screened on what was a growing European movie market.

That conversation came to mind some 10 minutes into my screening of the Netflix film “The Abyss,” which the streaming service’s marketing is advertising as one of Netflix’s most-viewed new offerings. That was the exact point, too, where I began wondering just how desperate Netflix is getting these days.

Don’t mistake this “The Abyss” for James Cameron’s 1989 underwater epic. This “The Abyss” is a Swedish disaster film, directed by Richard Holm and co-written by him, his son Robin Sherlock Holm and Nicola Sinclair.

Cameron’s film has its problems, both in the stories about its production (some actors coming close to drowning) and in that anticlimactic ending. But at least it had a first-rate cast and Cameron’s typical attention to detail (except, that is, for the script).

Holm’s “The Abyss,” in contrast, is a quick-hit mishmash of far better disaster films that lacks pretty much everything that Cameron, or even disaster maven Irwin Allen (“The Towering Inferno,” “The Poseidon Adventure”) has produced.

Holm sets his film in the far north of Sweden, in the real-life city of Kiruna, which actually was hit by an earthquake in 2020 that leveled much of the city center. Melding that event with a 1961 mining-related earthquake that occurred in another part of Sweden, Holm and his co-writers imagine what might happen if the two events coincided in Kiruna today.

They follow a mining-safety engineer, Frigga Vibenius (Tuva Novotny), who is concerned about a series of ground tremors that she fears are associated with a deep mining project beneath the town (the mine scenes were shot in Finland).

The tremors aren’t her only problem, though. She’s estranged from her mining-director husband Tage (Peter Franzén), and her two children resent her attempts to end her marriage. Moreover, she’s invited her new love, Dabir (Kardo Razzazi), to come visit, a situation that is particularly upsetting to her daughter Mika (Felicia Maxime).

All of this is handled in a manner that wouldn’t muster a passing grade in a Screenwriting 101 course, with no stereotype in character or plot ignored.

And the special effects? Save for one sequence that is designed to make anyone subject to claustrophobia sweat, let’s just say that you can go on YouTube and find any number of amateur efforts that look far more believable.

I want to be clear: I don’t make a habit of reviewing second-rate films. I’d much prefer to point movie fans toward something worthwhile to watch.

Every once in a while, though, I find it necessary to differentiate between something actually good and something that is, well, merely “product.”