Arctic Review

By Liselotte Vanophem

Being alone on a planet where internet, warmth, and sleep are a luxury you can only dream of. Doesn’t that remind you of “ The Martian “? Well for director Joe Penna (“Avicii: You Make Me — Avicii by Avicii”, “Beyond”), of whom “Arctic” is his directional feature film debut, this sounded too similar to his latest film.

He decided to give a last-minute twist to “Arctic “and what an amazing one it was. Together with Mads Mikkelsen, Penna made from this film a very intriguing one with a very familiar story and outstanding acting performances.

Forget Mars, Jupiter or Venus, say hello to freezing temperatures of the Arctic. After being involved in a terrible helicopter accident, Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen) is stranded on one of the coldest places on earth.

Badly wounded, deserted and terribly undernourished, he’s literally screaming for help. Being at his wit’s end and with almost no energy left, time is running out for him at a very high pace.

Right when he thought things couldn’t go any worse, they do. The helicopter of the team, who was his only rescue of the cold place, crashed right in front of his eyes, leaving one dead and one severely hurt.

If there’s one silver lighting to this accident, is that Overgård now has the company of the survivor (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir). Together they try to do everything in their weak power to make sure that they can be rescued and escape the bare and frosty place.

However, it doesn’t take long before they consume all the food, before the little heat is dissolved and before all the vital medicines are gone. They don’t only have to battle against the cold but also against the cruel inhabitants of the Arctic.

Will they be able to keep it together and to survive or will the frigid conditions be too much for them and will this cold place the last one they will ever see?

Despite the fact that the story is very dark and sombre, the movie itself isn’t at all. Right from the start, the screen literally lights up due to the white, shiny and bright colour of the Arctic. Nothing on it, just snow. No wonder director Penna decided to shoot this film in the ice-cold heart of Iceland.

The country was Penna’s first choice of location for very different reasons. Primarily, it was the professionalism and determination of the Icelandic crew, who made sure that it was possible to make this movie in the first place.

Secondly, it was also a very accessible way to reach the set. Imagine how hard it must have been dragging all the film equipment through the snow, ice, and cold. Making a film is already incredibly hard labour, let alone doing it in freezing Iceland. Congrats to the cast and crew for pulling this off.

For the first ten minutes, we only see Mikkelsen (“ Men & Chicken”, “ Doctor Strange “) as Overgård making his way through to the endless sea of snow while desperately looking for food, water but most importantly help. No conversation whatsoever.

During a Q&A during last years’ BFI Film Festival London, director Penna mentioned that he had a Skype call or better said a Skype audition with Mikkelsen moments before the deadline the cast had to be ready.

Luckily for us that they had the conversation because Mikkelsen is astonishing as the man who’s suffering, freezing and in need for help more than anyone else.

As a director, Penna wanted to make sure that not the entire story of the main character was told in the movie because he finds in it important that the audience can make up their own story and their own interpretation of the film.

Yes, it’s clear that something Overgård has to pay the sad consequences from the accident. However, we don’t know exactly what happens. Did he have a crash on his first flight? Was he a helicopter technician, a pilot or just a passenger?

“Arctic” is certainly not a one-man show from Mikkelsen only. Opposite him, we see the wonderful and captivating Smáradóttir (“Prisoners”, “UngrÚ Ísland”) as the lost, vulnerable and unnamed woman, who’s sadly separate from the entire world and her family.

The only person she can rely on is Overgård. In the original script, there was room for even more conversations but the lack of words in the movie brings it to another level. The fact that some of the words from the script were cut out is a very smart touch.

“Arctic” received its world premiere during the Film Festival of Cannes last year, the film toured the whole world at different film festival stopping at the Melbourne International Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival.

If you didn’t catch this amazing and gripping movie during one of those film festivals, then you should check it out now. It’s a film you must see for the astonishing cinematography and remarkable acting performances.

Originally published at on January 8, 2019.



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