Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal, Doctor Strange) delivers a gritty and tough-minded performance in the well-executed survival adventure film, Arctic.
You would think that a film involving a plane crash would show the plane crash, but in Arctic, the film begins sometime after. Our hero, grey-bearded and weather beaten Overgard (Mads Mikkelsen) is busy carving enormous SOS letters in the snow. He is an ingenious guy and has installed ice fishing poles on the frozen lake adjacent to his cargo plane wreckage. While waiting for rescue, Overgard maintains a mundane existence, fishing for arctic trout. He operates a manual emergency position radio beacon in the hopes that a search party will pick up on the signal. He also keeps a wary eye on a roaming polar bear nearby.
Overgard’s boredom ends when a rescue helicopter finally appears. Unfortunately, the weather is dangerous and chaotic, and the ensuing strong gusts of wind, spin the helicopter around, causing it to crash land. Rushing over to the crash site, Overgard finds two passengers inside, a dead pilot and an injured young woman. The woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) has a nasty laceration across her stomach. Dragging her to his cargo plane, Overgard staples the laceration together, disinfects the wound and bandages her body. Overgard feeds her the fish he’s caught, keeps her warm and monitors her rapidly declining health.
Finding an emergency rescue sled in the back of the downed helicopter, Overgard makes plans to leave. Using a map he found aboard the helicopter, Overgard maps out a route towards a seasonal arctic station located some distance away. After gathering supplies and food, he fastens the young woman on the rescue sled and begins pulling her towards this new destination.
Arctic is a very minimalist and no frills film. No exact location is given in the film other than the very generic ‘Arctic’ location. It could be Antarctica or somewhere in Iceland for all we know. Another intriguing element is the lack of interaction between the injured young woman and Overgard. There is no romance element or ‘meet-cute’ scene. The young woman remains sick and borderline comatose throughout. She is literally dragged by Overgard on a sled for the entirety of the film. She doesn’t even tell him her name.
Those who appreciate realism in movies, will enjoy the refreshing lack of computer generated graphics. The polar bear that appears is real and not some artificial creation from the Marvel cinematic universe.
Arctic is a one-man show, Mads Mikkelsen carries this film. Thankfully also, there are no navel-gazing haunting flashbacks or reminiscing of better times shown onscreen. Overgard faces a slew of challenging obstacles by himself and at no point receives any assistance. He uses all his available endurance and stamina to transport a sick woman on a sled across a bitterly cold landscape. He also endures an excruciating painful leg wound and scares off a ravenous polar bear with a flare.
Brazilian Director Joe Penna has put together a gripping if low-key ‘man versus nature’ film, one worth making a trek to the theaters. Arctic is a far more palatable option compared to the more mainstream Hollywood offerings.