[Movie Review] Arctic (2019)

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Iceland | Drama, Thriller | 13+ | Director: Joe Penna | Writers: Joe Penna, Ryan Morrison | Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir | English, Danish | 98 minutes


There are reasons why 'Arctic', back during its premiere at last year's Cannes Film Festival, received quite an enormous standing ovation. First of all, one-man centered survival thriller is not a type of film that is, quantitatively speaking, produced frequently. Looking back from the last 20 years, we had films like 'Cast Away', '127 Hours', 'The Grey', 'All is Lost', 'Buried', 'I Am Legend', 'The Revenant', and 'Life of Pi' as some of the most widely known one-man centered survival movies and not much else. 'Arctic' is unique because of Joe Penna's capability, despite the fact that this one is his feature directing debut, in packaging a simple premise and a rather straight-forward script to appear as both amusing and physically tormenting for the audience.

While the entertaining aspect might be subjective since it strongly depends on how far you could fare with slow-pace storytelling but nonetheless, it's safe to say this film is exhausting and distressing to watch (in a good way). It narrates the story of a stranded pilot Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen) who's been living alone in the wilderness of Arctic terrain for God knows how long, trying his best to survive until the long-awaited help arrives. Just when a rescue helicopter comes to retrieve him, a storm struck the copper down leaving only one heavily-wounded crew alive. Subsequently, Overgård decides to deliver the injured rescuer to the most adjacent station (that is in fact days away from his place) for some unspoken rationales.

Joe Penna's directing wouldn't work its charm if the actor couldn't bear the burden to practically handle the story throughout its whole screentime. Thankfully, it's Mads Mikkelsen we're talking about. As one of the best working actors in these present days, Mads brought his A-game to portray Overgård's personality and his performance ends up being one of his bests ever (if not the best). Minimum in dialogues, Mads displays a fantastic acting masterclass as he proficiently shows how to be a well-versed screen performer. He efficiently channels heightened emotions to the viewers without having to be vigorously expressive.

What differentiates Overgård from the typical survival film protagonist is that every step and act that he takes are somewhat more humane and natural. There are moments where he merely stands in disbelief instead of relentlessly rushing against the obstacles with a head full of determination. Every so often he needs to stop, take a breather and look around, just like how a human being should be. The number of extremities which he has to endure is also precise. The film never delves too deep in terms of showcasing somatic crucifixion and because of that, 'Arctic' remains not an excessively sanguineous spectacle. But still, the pain expressed on the screen is enough to pull out the sense of empathy from the audience. Not to mention that Tómas Örn Tómasson's cinematography which mostly comprises of static shots does a great job in equipping Mads with a decent space to fill each frame with resonating agitation.

As mentioned hitherto, this film utilized a slow-paced style of storytelling. Albeit it's only 98 minutes long, it indeed feels like a 2-hour movie as the abundance of suffering conveyed on Overgård slowly increases along with the plot progression. It maintains a proper application of transitory psychology as the more pain that our lead has to withstand, the more exhausted the viewers thus the film would feel longer than it's supposed to be. It has to be admitted that this style of narrative is a double-edged sword because for those who aren't used to digest a torpid recital, this movie will unarguably bore you to sleep.

A little bit of backstories for Overgård would be useful as well to give us more grasp towards his character (don't have to be so articulate, as long as it gives us enough glimpses that justify the motives of his actions). In the end, 'Arctic' is a nice movie to enjoy if you want to be taken aback by seeing Mads giving his absolute best and a captivating final shot. A must watch!


Review written by: Dysan Aufar

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