What do you do if you crash your aeroplane in the middle of a frozen Arctic desert? Undeniably, you only really have three options:
- Accept death as your fate.
- Wait for help in the blistering cold with frozen tears stained on your cheeks and hope the polar bears have already had lunch.
- Embark on a deadly hike through the unknown searching for salvation.
To sneak a peek at what awaits our main character, I suggest you read on (don’t worry there’s no spoilers!).
Arctic is a gripping survival film featuring Mads Mikkelsen (Rogue One, Casino Royale, The Hunt) who plays the role of Overgård, a man stranded in the Arctic. This is the first feature film debut by the director and co-writer, Joe Penna—and by all means it is a great start for a first time on the big screen. Also recognised under his YouTube channel name MysteryGuitarMan, Penna has over two million subscribers usually works with animation and stop-motion techniques, so in comparison, Arctic is a whole new territory.
The film opens with a close up shot of Overgård scraping away at the snow on the ground; the camera then zooms out and reveals he is actually working on a gigantic SOS message. It is obvious he has been trapped for weeks as he has a successful routine to keep him busy: raking away snow, attending to his fishing rigs and walking several kilometres to transmit a signal to anyone or anything nearby. This is all the audience knows about this mysterious man who appears to be of Scandinavian descent, in fact, you don’t even learn his name until the credits. A missed opportunity at being rescued turns into a tragic helicopter accident leaving him to act heroically when he takes care of the young woman passenger (María Thelma Smáradóttir).
This film shows a true act of human kindness as Overgård could have easily left the young woman to die in the snow, but instead he rescued her, when he was the one in need of rescue. The woman cannot speak English and is severely wounded from the crash, but despite minimal communication, Overgård manages to take care of her injury and feed her. There is not much in the way of dialogue but a knockout performance from Mikkelsen proves there doesn’t need to be—emotions through gestures and expression are more powerful and work very well in this film.
Arctic was filmed in Iceland over the course of 19 days. Mikkelsen referred to the film as the most difficult shoot of his career, and watching him on screen, it isn’t hard to see why. As Overgård’s time stuck in this icy wasteland becomes longer, it’s clear to the audience he is starting to deteriorate, and at times it is hard to look without wincing.
I always find films set in the snowy wilderness against glacial backdrops to provide one of the best viewing experiences. The Arctic region is a location that not many people tend to put on their holiday itinerary, so to see it on the big screen captured by cinematographers is quite striking. In Arctic, the cinematography was done by Tómas Örn Tómasson and every shot and camera angle was positioned perfectly to capture the setting. Birds eye view shots were prominent in the film from beginning to end. When you see just how small Overgård is in comparison to the vast whiteness that surrounds him, it’s hard to believe that he will ever make it out. Mikkelsen looks the part amongst the wintery setting with his bright red puffer jacket contrasting with the bleak and barren tundra and his rugged, overgrown beard crisp with icicles giving him the scruffy appearance.
While always visually appealing—but nail-biting at times—I wouldn’t say Arctic ticked all the boxes for me. To begin with, it felt like it startedin the middle of the story as there is no background knowledge of who the main character is and what his mission is. Does he have a family? What happened that caused his plane to crash? There are so many unanswered questions, but maybe it’s up to us to use our imaginations.
Arctic takes us on a thrilling journey that is never boring, and along with some fantastic film techniques it has been cleverly executed. I enjoyed watching the events unfold on screen, and I think you will too. Let’s be honest who doesn’t like observing someone in treacherous peril from the safety of our comfy couch with popcorn in hand?
Prepare yourself for what has been quoted by film industry and review website, Indiewire, as “one of the best movies ever made about survival”. Sit tight and rug up like an eskimo in an igloo—the weather is looking chilly with a chance of frostbite.
Arctic is showing at Event Innaloo and regional Orana cinemas now!