Mads Mikkelsen is excellent in this survivalist thriller following a man stranded in the Arctic
This debut feature from Brazilian musician and filmmaker Joe Penna, who started his career on YouTube, is a sophisticated addition to the survivor genre. A major factor in the film’s success is Mads Mikkelsen, who plays Overgård, a man stranded in the Arctic until a rescue helicopter crashes, leaving him to care for another survivor (María Thelma Smáradóttir). To save her life, Overgård must take her on a treacherous journey across the ice to find aid.
Among the exquisite beauty of the landscape and Overgård’s grim situation there are moments of poignancy. At several points, Penna chooses to hold a moment a little longer to hint at a deeper narrative beneath the simplistic surface – when Overgård cradles a freshly caught fish in his hands, when he ponders a little longer spotting a sprig of heather, or when laying down his unconscious ward to rest and his caring grasp becomes a hug. These moments are glimpses into the mind of a character we know very little about.
There are no flashbacks, no hallucinations, nor any voiceover – choices that make Arctic stand out. But this does mean Penna has to work a lot harder to tell a human story and not just show us a guy trudging across a white desert. To an extent, he does create a moral tale that concerns hope and considers the choice to jeopardise one’s own life for another. Overgård’s resolve is tested by challenges that are believable and his responses are realistic. Doing this with next to no dialogue may not have been possible were it not for Mikkelsen. He gives Overgård a kind and occasionally faltering humanity. Overgård’s pain, frustration and the freezing conditions are conveyed with captivating committal.
The film plays it straight – perhaps too straight – but displays Penna’s competence as a newcomer and bodes well for future projects that might provide him with more of a palette to work with.
Arctic had its Scottish premiere at Glasgow Film Festival and is released 10 May by Signature Entertainment