Director: Joe Penna
Writers: Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir, Tintrinai Thikhasuk
A man stranded in the arctic (Mikkelsen) after an airplane crash must decide whether to remain in the relative safety of his makeshift camp within his plane, or to embark on a potentially deadly trek through to the unknown. However, when a rescue helicopter crashes leaving one heavily wounded survivor, he is left with no choice but to try to embark on a dangerous journey through an unforgiving landscape.
Whether it be the desert, the ocean, the arctic or indeed deep space, films about basic human survival in the harshest and most remote settings are certainly nothing new, and so many may ask what exactly does Arctic bring to this already tried and tested genre?
Well, quite frankly, the answer is that Arctic doesn’t necessarily bring anything new, but nor does it intend to; what Arctic is, is an extremely well made and acted drama about human survival that is undeniably gripping and engaging from start to finish. It may not admittedly live long in the memory as it does not contain any particularly big emotive themes, but nor does it claim to, but thanks to being very well made and featuring a great leading performance, for its entire 100 minute running time Arctic is a gripping film.
Arctic is a stripped-down filmmaking; it is a film with little exposition that allows the visuals to the tell the story. We do not need to know the backstory of Mads Mikkelsen’s character, he is stranded in the arctic and just needs to get rescued, that’s all we need to know as if we were in his position, we would want the same.
Each scene is slow and often very drawn out, but this is essential to capture the mood and atmosphere of what the film’s protagonist is experiencing. Of course, an inevitable plot device for this kind of film is to introduce another character and this has to drive the narrative forward, and in the case of Arctic it doesn’t only drive the narrative but provides the main emotional backbone as our protagonist must not only keep himself alive, but also keep alive someone who tried to rescue him and could easily die as a consequence. The fact that one person died, and another is at risk of dying because they try to rescue him does place an extra emotional burden on the protagonist.
A film of this kind also requires a great performance, and someone like Mads Mikkelsen is perfect casting as he does not only have undeniable screen presence, but is an actor that can capture so many emotions through simple facial expressions; the moment our protagonist manages to capture a big fish with his simplistic fishing rods is a moment of extreme euphoria for our protagonist, and we also share it.
Arctic is also a wonderfully cinematic film; the camerawork, the stunning score by Joseph Trapenese and Tómas Örm Tómasson’s beautifully stark cinematography perfectly capture the harsh and desolate beauty of the arctic landscape and the extreme isolation our protagonist experiences.
Arctic may not be the most original of films, but is an extremely well made and acted one, and there is no denying that for the entirety of its 100-minute running time it will take a very tight grip of the viewer from start to finish.
An engaging and undeniably tense survival thriller; with a superb central performance from Mads Mikkelsen, Arctic makes up for what it may lack in originality with genuine cinematic tension and craft.