“Arctic” is the classic man against nature scenario. I’ve seen many different iterations of this type of film so the ideas weren’t new. But I was curious about this one given that the primary role was being played by Mads Mikkelsen of Hannibal television fame. I was also interested in the story: a man crashed in the “Arctic” has to make a choice whether to stay where he is or make a risky journey to attempt to reach help. I was curious how the scenario would play out. I’m glad I took the risk. While the ideas in the story are not new, the performance elevated the plot, the scenery was gorgeous and the intensity of the story was gripping, the minimalist filming enhancing the performance of Mads Mikkelsen.
The plot begins with Mads Mikkelsen’s character surviving day to day after his plane crashes in the Arctic desolation. He uses his watch alarm to maintain a routine. His day begins with a thoughtful cleaning of a grave cairn of his co-pilot. He cleans out an SOS sign of snowfall and then checks for food, traps he has set up in iceholes. He uses a hand operated radio to signal and creates a map of the area. He is patient and methodical. Nothing changes day to day until a helicopter flies overhead. Unfortunately, it crashes.
There are two on the flight but only one survives, a young woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir), badly injured. Our pilot dresses her wound and takes her back to his camp, his plane used as shelter. He salvages what he can from the helicopter, builds a cairn for the dead pilot and works on trying to treat the woman. He feeds her and tries to keep her alert. However, her wound is infected and he must make a choice: Does he stay in safety or does he use the map he found in the helicopter, attempt to get himself and the young woman to safety?
The plot explores the isolation and lack of human contact within this man’s survival. It compares with the film “Castaway”, using some of the same elements but instead it is set in the arctic. Much like the other movie, “Arctic” has to use ways for the character to have dialogue and it works. In this movie, though, he must make a long, daunting trek that may leave him and the young woman dead. He can’t wait for rescue and his ability to use his tools and fight the environment are part of what makes the plot thrilling. I was on the edge of my seat seeing if the pair would make it.
The cinematography is phenomenal. The movie is filmed in Greenland and it not only adds authenticity to the environment but is beautiful to watch as well. The choice to use a real location was a wise one and I felt the cold just from the view. I appreciated that an authentic environment was used with minimal addition to the environment for the film.
What truly elevates this film from other similar movies is the acting of Mads Mikkelsen. Mads Mikkelsen was incredibly deft and engaging in the film. He conveyed emotion with subtlety. His ability to show the hardship and toll surviving such a harsh climate made this a standout performance. Even though there is another actress, he must do the majority of dialogue and action. He still gives a gripping performance, keeping me engaged and waiting for his survival. While Maria Thelma Smáradóttir does not have much dialogue, her ability to engage the viewer and make you care about her injuries is also part of what helped the film be so compelling. The pair have great engagement and chemistry together, allowing the tension in the situation to shine.
The only jarring point for me were the transitions at the introduction of Mads’ character and at the end of the movie. They were jarring and abrupt, leaving me wondering if the film was truly over. It also took a little while to engage with the film due to this issue.
There also isn’t as much dialogue. While it is understandable, it does slow down the film, especially in the beginning. But despite the slower pace, there is a steady quality to the pacing, a subtle ratcheting of emotions and tension that keep you guessing as the ending of the film and keep the film thrilling to watch. It is not new but it is brutal and intense, especially the trek through the wilderness to get to a place where they might be rescued.
If you like survival movies, films that explore man versus nature or just really love Mads Mikkelsen, then this film might be worth catching. It is a film that might miss appealing to a wide audience due to the subject matter but exquisite acting, the quality of the cinematography plus the powerful, vivid action would makes it truly worth finding the time to watch. Even if you don’t like survival movies, it speaks of how isolation impacts our humanity, how acutely we need human touch to live and not just survive. This film brings those concepts to life and I found it incredibly compelling.
Rating 4 out of 5 sleds.