VOD film review: Arctic
James R | On 10, May 2019
Director: Joe Penna
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir
Read our interview with director Joe Penna here.
From Hannibal to a Bond villain, Mads Mikkelsen isn’t exactly known for playing warm, loveable characters – even The Hunt, which featured perhaps the most sympathetic role of his career to date, was a tough, intensely painful watch. That pales in comparison, though, to Arctic, a survival thriller that goes toe to toe with The Revenant, All Is Lost and The Grey.
Mikkelsen plays H. Overgard, a survivor of a plane crash who finds himself have to stay alive in the harshest, remotest conditions on the planet. He spends his days catching fish, scraping gigantic SOS signs in the ground and looking across the horizon for a chance to use his homemade flare. Director Joe Penna throws endless obstacles at his leading man, establishing a brutal routine of natural hostility – catch, scrape, hope, repeat – that’s both a masterclass in montage and repetition and an agonisingly slow trudge through never-ending misery.
Overgard’s routine is disrupted only by the discovery of another survivor (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) – a welcome variation on the sole survivor sub genre, most recently seen in Robert Redford’s All Is Lost. Over the course of 90 unbearable minutes, our duo develop a bond fuelled by their primal need to stay alive – a relationship that compels, shocks and delights in equal measure, which is all the more impressive given they barely say a word of dialogue. Smáradóttir and Mikkelsen both deliver hugely committed turns, with a physical presence that gradually warms their unspoken inner connection.
But make no mistake: this isn’t a feel-good road trip about an unlikely friendship. Astonishing visuals, an absorbing soundtrack and a relentless sense of futility combine to make an utterly spellbinding story of (hu)man vs nature, held together by our protagonist’s crumbling tower of fortitude. Mads brings everything he’s got to the tale, and leaves it all out on the ice. A chilling, riveting spectacle.