Lonely survival movies are fascinating as they can often be a mixture of extremely gripping moments and contemplative, quiet solitude. I find them personally hit and miss as if the character or scenario isn’t engaging – the movie falls flat. Arctic is one of the latest entries into the sub-genre and it sets about doing a lot of things differently. These quirks set Arctic apart and make it an engaging and introspective movie.
The disasters faced
A plane crash, a helicopter crash, shock, fishy soups, polar bears, hidden caves, giant mountains and frostbite… among other things!
Arctic keeps things short and sweet. We join Overgard post plane crash. We don’t know why he is there and we never will. He is already settled into his rhythm of finding rescue, plotting out his whereabouts on a map and keeping a stock of fish. After seeing the routine play out a few times, a helicopter rescue spots him and attempts a rescue. That goes horribly wrong and the copter crashes down in front of Overgard. The pilot is killed and the co-pilot is gravely hurt. She is in need of medical attention and fast. This spearheads Overgard to make the first of several decisions. Whilst trapped in his wreckage, at least it is relatively safe but the woman will likely die. Overgard decides to plot a path across the mountain and attempt to drag them both to safety.
So off they set. As time ticks on, Overgard begins to wear down and more challenges are thrown in front of him. As the injured co-pilot also deteriorates, the film shifts focus from not just survival but the cost of being kind. At what point do you begin to look after number one and only number one?
Why is it worth watching?
The beauty of Arctic comes in three specific parts. Each part makes the film as good as it is.
The first is the visual vistas of the Arctic. Director Joe Penna does a superb job of framing the beauty and the scary danger of that beauty in the same shot. According to the DVD extra interview, some of the widest lens put to film were used to show just how vast the icy world is. It adds so much to the film and often I was internally saying ‘ooh’ at many of the shots.
Second on the list – Mads Mikkelsen. He single-handedly drives the movie with a subtle mix of pained and hopeful. The physicality of the role means that he is an everyman. He doesn’t have the pro prowess of a survivalist but he is no slouch either. I really like the fact he has a brain and uses it. He doesn’t need to narrate to the audience which is great too. When he does speak though, the only mild downside is he is full-on mumblecore on occasion.
Thirdly, the introduction of the injured co-pilot really adds momentum and drama to things. There is an undertone that Overgard is constantly re-evaluating if he should continue to drag her down the mountain. Nature is cruel. It doesn’t give you breaks or shine a light on kindness – its all about survival. You can see the thoughts ticking across his face. Do I carry on or leave her behind? It cranks the tension up perfectly in the final third of the film as things get desperate. I love these kinds of scenarios as I put myself in their place and wonder what I would do. Arctic handles this issue sensitively, emotionally and intelligently.
The cinematography is superb. Whilst the first crash isn’t shown, the helicopter crash is muted but realistic. There is also some good injury make up too. The standout moment is the polar bear – apparently real – although how they made it do everything that was needed I’ve no idea!
There is only one and we learn little about his past. Overgard is methodical and runs by his stopwatch to keep a routine. What is interesting is that he feels bound to keeping positive and hopeful for the injured co-pilot. I’d love to know where his missing toes went though…
‘They’ll be here tomorrow… or the day after tomorrow. Don’t worry!’
Three memorable moments
- Polar Bear comes for lunch
- The moment where I thought we were going full-on 127 hours
- A simple hello
The obligatory weird moment
Arctic is straight-laced but Mads Mikkelsen mumbles his way through the dialogue. He only has about 25 lines all movie and I think I understood about 10 of them! I actually turned on subtitles at one point as I assumed it was multilingual!
The drinking game
Time for trout soup!
Quietly tightening up the tension without bringing out a dramatic soundtrack, overacting or anything more than a weary and increasingly worried face, Arctic is a thoughtful but taut movie. One of the better one-man survival movies made to date.
Rating: 3 / 5 Good
If you liked Arctic then you may like…
- Castaway – Still the best one-man survival movie ever made
- 6 Below – A similar style of film but with an unlikeable lead character
- Everest – The ill-fated trip up the great mountain that cost the lives of many