Solo survivalist stories are films that thrive on two things; engaging the audience through a well-defined narrative structure with balanced tension and relief, and a strong leading performance that can portray its character with the grit to make their sufferings feel authentic. Thankfully Arctic succeeds two-fold here.
Mads Mikkelsen leads Arctic which is the story of a man stranded in the arctic, who gets close to an opportunity for rescuing. After a tragic incident, he must decide whether to embark on a dangerous trek or stay in the safety of his shelter.
The film follows a lot of tropes that are associated with survival-thriller films but has one key element that stands out amongst the genre – Mads Mikkelsen. Besides a minor role from Maria Thelma Smaradottir, this film places Mads Mikkelsen front and center with his character undergoing a severe struggle. He showcases much more range in his acting ability as his character is constantly tested and challenged in his morality. The film contains very little dialogue but is fleshed out to be thoroughly lucid in its storytelling. There were moments where the main character Overgård would repeat sentences, the meaning of these sentences changed the more he repeated them; as Mikkelsen puts in so much emotion into nearly every single scene.
What helps the film feel less familiar with other material is how Overgård has thorough survival knowledge and puts it to use. The environment constantly tests the character and the director Joe Penna uses this to allow the audience to connect with the character under the knowledge that despite the character doing everything right, it still won’t go his way. This is how the film displays the difference between surviving and endurance which ultimately created an atmosphere of empathy.
As the film was shot in the highlands of Iceland, being set in the Arctic obviously calls for striking imagery and grandiose shots of the locations, the film succeeds in that. However, some of the shots that are more ingrained in memory are the simple static shots focusing on Mikkelsen as he experiences somewhat of a self-discovery. Another admirable element is the use of visual storytelling, the film has little words and more is told in its use of visual storytelling and its selection of shots. The set locations are extremely impressive as this film accomplishes at setting up a very authentic environment which makes this quite an immersive experience. This is only complemented by unique set designs that display Ovargård’s survival knowledge and his length of time being stranded. Joseph Trapanese composes a delicate and ominous score which assisted in its exceptional work for atmosphere in the film.
YouTube Phenomenon Joe Penna reaches high with his feature-film directorial debut and points to a bright future for the young director. He has added another great thriller-survivalist film that uses Mads Mikkelsen’s versatile acting ability to its fullest. Despite being nearly wordless, Mads Mikkelsen provides a career-best performance in Arctic which serves as a gripping and effectual addition to the thriller-survivalist genre.