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Arctic – Movie Review

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Arctic – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

It’s a terrifying thought to be stuck out in the wilderness by one’s self, with the elements working against you. It’s understandable that a number of filmmakers have sought this scenario for drama. First time feature director Joe Penna nails that isolation and coldness one would feel in the Arctic and he respects the audience’s intelligence enough to let most of the story be told without dialogue. Helping is a strong lead performance from Mads Mikkelsen. While his character eventually comes in contact with a woman, Arctic is essentially a one-man show and the result is thankfully captivating.

Penna jumps us immediately into the story. However, it only takes a few minutes to understand the man’s situation and how he ended up in this predicament. Penna is able to say a lot with only the location he has and Overgard’s crashed airplane hideaway. This is not a complex story, so the imagery is allowed to show the proper threat and coldness of the area. Mikkelsen is completely decked out in winter clothes through a good chunk of the runtime and it’s a credit to his acting ability that he still conveys so much through just his movement. When we do get a chance to see Mikkelsen’s face, his eyes portray so much of the difficulties he is dealing with as he comes across the elements.

Penna continues to throw in obstacles and complications, but these rarely feel forced. Overgard is already a sympathetic character and then he finds himself having to take care of a woman suffering from a possible infection and likely hyperthermia. Penna again uses certain visual clues to allow us to know who she is and he thankfully affords cliché in portraying this curious relationship between the two. There is no romance to be found here, so this doesn’t become a repeat of the disappointing survival film The Mountain Between Us from a few years ago. Watching now two characters face the Arctic wilderness just adds to the terror.

The ante continues to be upped, including a vicious moment with a polar bear, but Penna and Mikkelsen have created so much sympathy for their protagonist, one starts to feel especially bad for him. He goes through so much and one particular episode makes one wish Penna would go easy on the poor guy. Arctic does eventually become one bad situation after another, enough that the final moments could have made or broken the preceding film. There will be some debate over whether Penna made the right choice in the last shot, but it’s probably the most agreeable ending he could have come up with.

Arctic is a film that respects the audience’s patience to get through a movie where the main protagonist deals with a ton of horrible events and without dialogue or exposition to get us through. It’s an impressive feat for a feature debut and Joe Penna deserves that credit. The casting of Mads Mikkelsen was particularly beneficial in making us care about this individual and all he has to put up with. There are many survival films, so one has to make something special to truly stand out from the pack. Arctic succeeds nicely and is an example of the beauty of visual storytelling and making the most with what you have.

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

Stefan Ellison