Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma, Tintrinai Thikhasuk
Director: Joe Penna
Running Time: 98 mins
Arctic is an Icelandic film about a man stranded in the Arctic wilderness who, while struggling to survive, is forced to choose whether to remain in his makeshift camp and wait for help, or make a daring trek into the icy unknown in search of rescue.
A quiet, patient and thoughtful film like the best survival dramas should be, Arctic is a great watch, bringing you deep into the heavy rough and tumble of desperately staying alive against the hardest that Mother Nature has to throw at you. While it doesn’t always hit the nail on the head with some of its more complex emotional themes, this is a rugged survival thriller that prioritises a vivid portrayal of the harshness of its environment, and that’s exactly what it does so well.
On the face of things, Arctic is a very simple film. Mads Mikkelsen is a pilot stranded in the deepest reaches of the Arctic, and lives to stay alive every day from his makeshift camp, but with hope of survival far away. And just when it seems as if he has the chance to escape his icy prison, the enormity and challenge of his ordeal becomes all the greater.
It may not sound like much, but that’s a story with ample potential to make for an exhilarating 98 minutes of action and drama. I love the survival genre, and a number of simple and quiet yet deeply affecting classics like 127 Hours, All Is Lost, The Grey and many, many more have proven the often immeasurable power of the genre that pits humanity in its simplest form against nature in its most insurmountable guise.
At times, Arctic hints at equalling my long list of survival favourites, and with its rugged, vivid and hugely convincing portrayal of one man doing everything he can to overcome the challenges of the natural environment, it’s an undeniably striking watch throughout, with some heart-in-mouth moments that leave you on the edge of your seat, willing Mikkelsen to pull through and survive.
The problem, however, is that the film is just that – an engaging story about survival, and little more. There’s no denying the visual spectacle that Arctic offers up, and as far as portraying the physical challenges presented by trying to survive alone in the depths of the Arctic goes, this film is a great watch, but it offers little on a deeper level, often failing to utilise its most emotional moments as a means for real, powerful human commentary.
In terms of its sense of isolation and battling against the elements, Arctic is highly reminiscent of the fantastic All Is Lost, with one major difference. Where All Is Lost turns the physical challenges of survival into a means for intimate emotional and often existential drama, Arctic does nothing. Where All Is Lost proves that there’s so much that can be shown and suggested without words and big, loud action, Arctic does nothing.
That’s not to say Arctic is a boring watch (and there are boring moments in All Is Lost, too), but it does show where the story here is lacking, and why, come the end, it feels like you’ve been a little short-changed from what absolutely has the potential to be a really spectacular watch, both visually and emotionally.
There’s no denying that director Joe Penna has a passion for the survival genre, and that’s clear from the vivid, rugged portrayal of the nature closing in on our main man, but he doesn’t go far enough, failing to use that brilliance to great dramatic effect, ultimately meaning that Arctic is an engaging and striking watch, but nothing particularly spectacular, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5 overall.