Tucked away towards the back of the LFF programme, you’ll often find some of the best off-the-radar hidden gems, and Arctic is one of those films. The first feature from director Joe Penna would perhaps go entirely unnoticed were it not for the fact that it stars Mads Mikkelsen.
We meet Overgård (Mikkelsen), seemingly the only survivor of a plane crash in the arctic tundra. Unclear how long he has been stranded for, we see him embarking on a strict routine to survive the harsh environment; catching fish and desperately attempting to send out a radio signal. When a helicopter appears, hope of rescue soon turns into an even tougher battle for survival as he attempts to save the critically injured co-pilot (Smáradóttir), similarly the only survivor of her accident.
Arctic is a stripped back survival story, executed to perfection. The arctic backdrop provides the harshest of settings, and the limited cast does a stunning job of demonstrating the very best example of human endurance, facing the insurmountable odds in order to survive. This paired back approach and naturalistic style ensures that film manages to neatly avoid survival movie clichés and contrivances, and this is admirably handled by director Joe Penna.
The dialogue is almost as sparse as the landscape itself, and huge credit goes to the one man show that is Mads Mikkelsen for his deeply resonating performance. His co-star is incapacitated for the entirety of the film, and he carries the weight of the film expertly, saying so much by saying so little and emoting the impossibility of their journey with perfect subtlety and physicality. From the opening frame to the closing moments, we are invested in this character and that is essential in making a film this dialogue-light work. Mikkelsen’s performance is every bit as committed as Leonardo DiCaprio’s in ‘The Revenant’ but sadly, the former is unlikely to get the same awards attention.
At times quiet and meditative, this film explores the very human need for interaction, and the frankly superhuman way a body can endure conditions and situations beyond comprehension. At other times it is thrilling, with some genuine moments of shock and tension that will have you on the edge of your seat. In what will simply be dubbed as the 127 Hours moment (although admittedly nowhere near as graphic), you’ll find yourself wincing and there’s plenty more uncomfortable moments like this scattered throughout.
With breath-taking scenery and a story that will leave you utterly breathless, Arctic may very well be one of the sleeper hits of the festival. With a stunning central performance from Mads Mikkelsen, a captivatingly stripped-back narrative, and accomplished direction, Arctic is a film well worth seeking out.
The Arctic is available in cinemas and on digital HD 10th May 2019
Directed by: Joe Penna
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir