The man vs. nature survival film “Arctic” isn’t just another clichéd tale of the human spirit. Instead of taking the wholly predictable route, the mostly silent film (there are only a few lines of dialogue) relies on the charisma and talent of Mads Mikkelsen to keep things engaging until the end.
A man known only as Overgård (Mikkelsen) is stranded in the Arctic after an airplane crash and after what appears to be at least several weeks, it’s clear nobody is coming for a rescue mission. With time and supplies running out, he must decide whether to remain in the relative safety of his makeshift camp or to embark on a deadly trek through the unknown in the hopes of making it out alive.
The story is a quietly thrilling tale of perseverance and humanity, and director Joe Penna shows that restrained storytelling can be just as gripping as a thrill-a-minute action flick. Surprises pop up along the journey, and there’s no dialogue needed to convey the sheer desperation and resolve of a man who has nothing yet everything to live for. Overgård is rugged, resourceful, and determined, a character with qualities everyone hopes they would have in themselves if they were placed in a similar circumstance.
The cinematography (by Tómas Örn Tómasson) is desolate and chilly, which makes the stark setting even more striking. Mikkelsen gives the film great emotional gravitas with his performance, as he is able to convey so much with facial expressions and not even a page of dialogue. Everything clicks, making this one of the more memorable survival dramas in recent years.
The film is cerebral in its own way, with a purposely vague story that rewards the thoughtful viewer. You aren’t told the “how” and “why” of the story; it’s left up to the audience to fill in their own blanks.