Directed by Joe Penna
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir
Mads Mikkelsen truly seems like the sort of actor to carry a film just about on his own, and he does so here in Arctic. Just like in the similarly earthy, chilly, and dialogueless Valhalla Rising, he gives a mostly physical performance of someone diligently fighting to survive through each new deadly encounter.
The film begins in the middle of Overgård’s (Mikkelsen) predicament – his plane has crashed in an inhospitable area of the Arctic and he uses all his materials and means to keep himself alive, including fishing and occasional SOS radio signals. He finally manages to wave down a passing helicopter and just when he thinks his luck has turned, the helicopter crashes and he then becomes responsible not just for himself, but the injured and unconscious pilot (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir).
Arctic plays itself out carefully, moving slowly along with these characters as they traverse through the hopelessly encompassing snow-lands, with only very sparse dialogue coming from Overgård (mostly spoken to himself). It becomes something of a survival movie, which have been relatively popular lately, with Overgård encountering one problem after another, and not always able to succeed in getting through each one. Each new problem gets the audience’s minds going, with the film giving them enough time to ponder the various solutions or harrowing mistakes that this character could succumb to.
Although this is a fairly engrossing cinema experience, Arctic feels unsubstantial compared to its contemporaries. It doesn’t have the psychological insight of self-entertainment from The Martian, nor the emotional distress or technical spectacle from Gravity. Coming this far into this sub-genre’s presence, Arctic seems too stripped-back and skeletal to do anything new that these other films haven’t done, apart from place its survival setting within an icy location.
This slow, brooding, visual film that’s reasonably sparse in its edits is one of the last things you would expect from the cleverly edit-heavy YouTuber Joe Penna. It’s a surprising change in style for him, one that suggests he’s taking a personal stylistic stance with his directorial debut, yet it also demonstrates how little substance he brings to this slow cinema form, despite getting the surface-level aesthetic right.
Arctic plays at UWA Somerville from Monday, December 3 to Sunday, December 9, 8pm, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, December 11 to Sunday, December 16, 8pm.