Mads Mikkelsen plays the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Arctic. As the film begins he has settled into a precarious domesticity; the fell plane his home, the ice fields his source of sustenance. One day his routine is interrupted by the appearance of a helicopter during a storm. Thinking rescue has arrived he soon finds that his situation has grown more urgent, and undertakes a dangerous journey across the wilderness.
Joe Penna’s feature film debut is an immersive survival movie. He and cinematographer Tómas Örn Tómasson capture the terrifying beauty of the frozen landscape. Much time is spent on Mikkelsen’s fascinating and bleak regime of survival. Once he decides to risk it all on his pilgrimage the hopelessness is ever-present. A map illustrates just how far there is to go. Yet this is not one long trudge throw the snow, the threats are many and all thrilling, especially the face-off with the apex predator of the arctic.
The film features only two characters (three if one counts the polar bear that stalks the survivors) but Mikkelsen thrives in the near solo role. Small victories and pleasures are given full weight by Mikkelsen’s performance. The discovery and consumption of a Pot Noodle becomes an act of sheer bliss. His attempts to remain positive against overwhelming odds are heartbreaking. His co-star Maria Thelma Smáradóttir spends much of her time unconscious, but is nevertheless a tragic figure.
Arctic is a brutal but compellingly thrilling survival story featuring a powerful central performance from Mikkelsen.
Arctic will have it’s UK Premier at the London Film Festival on Thursday 11 October 2018 at 21:00 at the Picturehouse Central.