Published on February 1st, 2019 | by Michael Newman0
This week has been one of the coldest on record across much of the United States. The “polar vortex” has brought with it sub-zero temps complete with snow and ice. It seems only fitting that Arctic a survival movie co-written and directed by YouTube star Joe Penna would be releasing the very same week. In his first feature film directorial debut Penna brings both the beauty and the dangers of the Arctic (Iceland in this case) to the big screen.
A lone man identified only as Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen) has crashed his cargo plane somewhere in the arctic. We don’t know how long he has been stranded there, but long enough for him to have carved out a giant S.O.S in the snow. He has converted his downed plane into his new home and goes about the same routine every day. He sets his watch alarm to keep his schedule, which involves catching fish through the ice, and setting out in a different direction each day to manually wind his transponder in the hopes that a rescue will finally come.
One day, a day like countless days before it, Overgård’s transponder turns from red to green and in the distance a helicopter appears. His lucky day soon turns into tragedy as the harsh winds of the Arctic toss the helicopter around like a kite in a hurricane, crashing it to the ground. Overgård quickly runs to the crash site only to find that one of the pilots has died in the crash, and the other (Maria Thelma Smáradôttir) is barely conscious and has a gaping wound in her side. In a scene that could almost be described as humorous (if it wasn’t for the dire situation itself), Overgård crafts a sled out of the helicopter’s sliding door to carry the woman back to the safety of his plane, only to find out the next day that inside the helicopter was an actual rescue sled.
Sadly, it isn’t long before the young pilot’s wound begins to fester that Overgård must make a choice. Stay in the little slice of heaven that he has carved up for himself or risk the forces of nature in an effort to save the woman’s life. With a map he recovered from the downed helicopter, Overgård is able to identify an outpost and carefully plots out the journey that will take them there. The journey he plans for will take several days and has numerous obstacles to overcome. Yet, with a heart that clearly is as large as the vastness of the arctic itself, he realizes he has no choice.
Arctic is a movie with very little dialog, other than an occasional comment to himself or an attempt to rouse his unconscious guest. For a movie that says so little it’s the atmosphere that says so much. The film attempts to capture the harsh conditions that Overgård faces along his journey and does it so brilliantly that you can almost feel the icy weight as it bears down. The audience struggles with every wintery step as if they are not only spectators, but active participants in the journey. The scenery is as awe inspiring as it is deadly. The music seamlessly blends into the environment to a point where you are aware it’s there but doesn’t break the immersion.
Arctic could almost be mistaken as a documentary, a film about one mans survival in one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. Its pacing is deliberate, even if it is a bit slow at times. There is little need to add extra flair or danger into the mix, because nature alone provides it in spades. Arctic is not a movie that will appeal to those looking for non-stop action. At its heart it is really a movie about man vs nature, and nature can be a beast all its own. Arctic is certainly a movie for those looking for something a bit different. For those who are looking for a survival movie that doesn’t take place on a deserted isle, then this is right up your alley. Arctic shows that sometimes realism is far more interesting than fiction.
4 out of 5 stars