Eye For Film >> Movies >> Arctic (2018) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
It's possible for someone who knows what they're doing to survive for quite a long time in the Arctic, in clement weather. Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen) is sufficiently well organised when we meet him that it's clear that he's been there for some time. He's sheltering in the wreck of his plane. He has carved a giant SOS into a nearby snowfield. He's set up ice holes and is using them to trap fish. Under the circumstances, he's doing pretty well. But there's not sign of him having found seals, so he can't harvest fat and sooner or later his fuel will run out. Winter will come, making it much, much colder. And that's if the bear that has discovered his camp (let's call it Chekov's bear, because we know we'll see it again) doesn't get him first.
All the same, it's hard to imagine moving. In most cases, the advice given is to stay near the crash site - the wreckage will be much more visible to scouts than a lone man traversing this vast desert of ice and rock. What's more, he doesn't seem to have a map or a clear idea of his location. Everything changes when a helicopter, alerted to his presence and trying to set down, crashes into a nearby slope. Inside he finds a young Thai woman, barely alive. He does what he can for her but she's wounded and soon develops a fever. The idea that someone besides himself might die out here seems to bring things into sharp relief. He also finds a map in her craft. So he straps her to a sled, all swaddled up in a sleeping bag, and sets out to try and trek across mile upon mile of hostile terrain in search of help.
Joe Penna's thriller is as lean and spare as life up in the Arctic wilderness. There are no explanations, nothing to provide context beyond what we see (all very well worked out from a storytelling perspective). Although Overgård tries to talk to the girl, figuring she's most likely to understand English (though he occasionally slips into his native Danish), she isn't really coherent enough for us to know if she understands. This is a classic adventure story of the type popular in the 1930s, a tale of one man pitted against the elements - but in this place, mere toughness isn't nearly enough. Overgård has to use all of his intelligence and craft to survive whilst facing a psychological battle that tests him to the limit.
It's a story with its share of clichés, which is forgivable in light of the limited possibilities offered by the setting. Sometimes its predictability becomes tedious but as a rule Mikkelsen's skills as an actor are sufficient to overcome this. Despite the fact that we can barely see his face and he was freezing cold himself throughout the shoot (which took place in Iceland), he draws us in to Overgård's struggle and keeps us closely focused, rooting for this stranger to survive. Despite the familiarity of many story beats, it's a film that will keep you guessing, with the girl's life at stake as well and, of course, the gruesome possibility that Overgård may make it but without all of the body parts he started out with.
With just a little more invention and originality, this film might have been something truly special. As it stands, it's a fantastic showcase for its star and, though slow in places, still highly watchable.Reviewed on: 10 Dec 2019