Sep 12, 2019
Welcome back for another Certified Fresh review, this time an Icelandic small cast survival film starring Mads Mikkelsen set in the Arctic. Survival films always provide insight, especially against the natural world. For a few other films related to “Arctic”, check out “Solo” (Episode #384), not that one, but an injured surfer trapped on a secluded beach, and “Hold The Dark” (Episode #272), Jeremy Saulnier’s most recent brutal thriller set in the Alaskan wilderness.
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Here we go!
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Today’s movie is “Arctic”, the small cast survival drama directed by Joe Penna and written for the screen in collaboration with Ryan Morrison. The film follows Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen), a Danish pilot stranded in the middle of the Arctic, surviving day to day while trying to contact someone for help. When a rescue attempt goes wrong, Overgård must decide whether to stay put, or transport an injured young woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) three days travel through the elements for a potential rescue.
Mads Mikkelsen has had a pretty amazing career, weaving through major franchises and independent features, on the big, small, and gaming screens. The diversity of his filmography, along with a few key roles such as “Valhalla Rising”, makes him perfect for a solo feature in “Arctic”. He’s had enough quality roles and performances to know he can carry a solo feature, and he’s had enough roles like One-Eye in “Valhalla Rising” for a survival feature. I mention “Valhalla Rising” for two reasons. Sure, it’s a survival drama of sorts, but it’s also a nearly silent film from Nicolas Winding Refn, which also showed Mikkelsen’s ability to communicate through facial expressions and other non-verbal means.
All that talent means we’re definitely set up for a great solo performance, and I’m happy to say that Mikkelsen delivers. We open in media res, as Overgård is working through his survival routine. Each action is full of meaning, giving us story details, and setting the tone for the picture quite well between the lack of dialogue and the gorgeous views of the Arctic wilderness. Viewers will have an easy time relating to Overgård, even if they may not feel like enough of a survivalist to appreciate all the aspects of the role. We don’t know how the plane crashed, or who else might have been involved, but Mikkelsen’s performance communicates all the feelings we should have.
Obviously, watching Mikkelsen run through his routine for over 90 minutes wouldn’t be that interesting, so when the rescue attempt scene begins, we’re treated to the second of four acts, as first Overgård is excited to be saved, then traumatized as the craft crashes attempting to land in an escalating windstorm. Ironically, Overgård must become the rescuer, and instead of a slow survival race against time, we’re kicked into high gear as injuries will prove too much for survival. Which brings us to the extended third act, when Overgård attempts to cross the wilderness with a better map found on the rescuers, and faces new and familiar challenges.
Now, if you’re thinking I’m spoiling anything, think again. Most of this is outlined in the trailer for “Arctic”, but it’s also a familiar outline for most solo survival pictures. Generally, we start with whatever circumstances left the person within a hostile environment, but “Arctic” skips that for our protagonist, and saves us having to watch two crash/rescue sequences. We sort of get the idea of how the crash may have happened, but we’re also not left with a backstory to manage on top of the survival story. I find this is part of the self-limiting nature of survival films, and that goes doubly so for environments without a lot of diversity, like deserts, or in today’s case, the bleak Arctic. The fewer challenges that can be reasonably expected, the harder it is to carry the film. Most pictures try to shoehorn a thematically relevant backstory for the survivalist, where backstory conflicts are symbolized by the survivalist conflicts. By not doing this, we get to stay within survival mode the entire film, and between Mikkelsen’s acting and Penna’s direction, it’s a hell of a ride, even if it’s maximum potential is limited by the setting and the story itself.
“Arctic” is an above average survivalist film, carried magnificently by Mads Mikkelsen in the lead role, as framed and directed by Joe Penna. While an Arctic survival story only has so many options compared to other survival stories, “Arctic” manages those options well, and sometimes in new ways, for a film with heavy international appeal. Survival film fans, and fans of great non-verbal acting, should definitely check out this film. It may be predictable, but it is also enjoyable.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
One Movie Punch: 8.3/10
“Arctic” (2018) is rated PG-13 and is currently playing on Amazon Prime.