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The Abyss (2023) Review

The Swedish thriller The Abyss, Avgrunden in its homeland, has its basis in an interesting bit of reality. The city of Kiruna in Northern Sweden is built over one of the world’s largest underground mines. So large in fact that the risk of sinkholes and cave ins became too severe to ignore. As a result, they’re moving the city centre, building by building, to a new location several miles away.

Director Richard Holm (Sex, Lies and Video Violence, Johan Falk: Lockdown) and co-writers Robin Sherlock Holm (Ticket Holders or: A Metaphysical Journey Through a Cineast’s Brain, The Woman Under the Bed) and Nicola Sinclair ask what if the authorities waited to long to start moving?

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Like most disaster films, The Abyss starts small, a trio of youths partying near the mine get swallowed by a sinkhole.  After that, we meet our heroine Frigga (Tuva Novotny, Annihilation, Zero Contact) who’s a safety inspector at the mine. She’s already got her hands full with her personal life, her marriage to Tage (Peter Franzén, Boudica: Queen of War, Vikings) has fallen apart, their daughter Mika (Felicia Maxime, Young Royals, Heartbeats) is protesting against the mine.

Even worse, their son Simon (Edvin Ryding, A Place in the Sun, The Master Plan) has gone missing on his birthday, which brings Tage to her door looking for him. That would be bad enough even if her new boyfriend Dabir (Kardo Razzazi, Backstabbing for Beginners, Operation Ragnarök) wasn’t visiting.

It’s in the midst of all of this that an incident in an unused area of the mine leads to the discovery of a fissure that runs directly under the city. A fissure that is about to collapse and take the city with it. Of course, the mine’s director of operations, who happens to be Tage, doesn’t want to shut down and evacuate until another tremor traps him along with Frigga and a couple of other members of the safety team underground.

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The Abyss does a good, if unsurprising, job of introducing the characters and building tension through the first act. There’s the usual run of small but escalating tremors and other signs that something bad is about to happen, mixed with the character’s interpersonal drama and the hunt for the missing Simon. Unfortunately, most of the drama is centred on Tage and his reaction to Dabir’s presence, when the family obviously had plenty of other issues before he arrived.

Even worse, that drama takes the forefront during The Abyss’s second act. There’s way too much bickering about whose fault it is that Simon went missing, and the conflict between the two men is pushed to the point of them getting into a fight in church. They even add issues between Mika and her girlfriend Aila (Tintin Poggats Sarri, Charter) as if things weren’t close enough to a soap opera as it was.

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When disaster finally strikes, the scenes of destruction are well staged if limited. This was obviously made on a fairly limited budget by Hollywood standards, so while The Abyss is well ahead of the usual Asylum disaster film, don’t be expecting San Andreas levels of destruction or much of a body count among the main cast. But while it is well staged, it’s also very predictable, with all the leads having to work together in the film’s climactic set piece. Its outcome is as obvious as who will still be alive when the credits roll, something you’ll probably have guessed by the film’s midpoint.

If it had widened its focus beyond the one family and worked in a few elements that took advantage of its novel setting, The Abyss could have been an above average disaster film. But the whole idea of a city in the process of being moved is never used beyond being a reason for the protests that Mika participates in. As it is, it’s a decent way to kill some time, but nothing special or memorable.

The Abyss is available on Netflix in the usual assortment of subtitled and dubbed versions. This review is based on the Swedish language version with English subtitles.

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