A cargo pilot stranded in the Arctic after his plane crashes patiently waits for his rescue to arrive. His routine of fishing and calling for help pays off when a rescue helicopter finally finds him, but its attempt to land during a storm goes wrong and it also crashes, leaving its surviving crew member severely injured. The survivor’s injuries force the stranded pilot to attempt a difficult trek on foot to the closest seasonal station.
Arctic isn’t a new story, or even a particularly new take on it, but the simplicity of the plot is part of what gives Director Joe Penna the room to create the sense of isolation and determination that drives the film along. So much of the story is established with the camera and character actions that there’s very little else for the characters to do but survive.
As the stranded pilot, Mads Mikkelsen provides a wonderful portrayal of hope, determination and, at times, hopelessness with very little dialogue. You know what he’s doing and why without explanation and you can believe the why and how of it all. Maria Thelma Smáradóttir plays the injured survivor of the helicopter crash and, although she provides a convincing portrayal of being comatose, there’s little else to say about her part in the film.
Tómas Örn Tómasson’s cinematography makes surprisingly effective use of a landscape that is, for the most part, blanketed in snow. He and Penna provide enough of a sense of the vastness of the arctic tundra without losing track of being with Mikkelsen and Smáradóttir throughout their trek.
If I had one criticism of Arctic, it’s that it’s excellently sparing use of music to underpin the emotion of the film means that, in the few moments when it does, it almost immediately feels like too much. It reminded me of watching older Hollywood films when the score was only used to underpin emotional moments and the films would shift suddenly from silence to full-blown orchestral backgrounds. It can be a bit jarring for a modern western audience, but it is not at all something that will spoil the moments for you.
All in all, Arctic is a good take on a classic survival storyline and, while it doesn’t really try to do anything new with it, it delivers what it sets out to do very well. It’s Alive without the cannibalism, The Grey without the wolves, The Revenant without eating liver, and it’s all of them without any interpersonal interactions.