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MOVIES: (LFF 2018) Arctic - Review: "One of the Best of Its Kind"




Joe Penna's Arctic does its best to breakaway from the traditional tired cliches of the survival genre, bringing sheer raw talent to the table in the form of a terrific solo performance from Hannibal star Mads Mikkelsen, who is one of the most gifted actors currently working. And it is largely just Mikkelsen carrying this movie, save for a smaller but important performance by Maria Thelma Smáradóttir. If you've seen Robert Redford in All is Lost, or even Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant then you'll get an idea as to what this film is going for, never shying away from bringing plenty of tension to the table in the face of consistent life or death situations.

We never see Mikkelsen's character, named Overgård - crash land on the surface of the hellish Arctic snow. Instead, we catch up with him much later, thanks to a photograph that we discover later in the film which reveals that he was beardless before it started, and several of his toes are frostbitten. He's crafted a set-up for himself to give him a steady food supply operating out of his downed plane, and is on the verge of a long-awaited rescue. In most survival films, this would be the very end, or at least the start of the final act, but in Arctic that is not the case. The helicopter due to rescue him crash-lands, leaving the pilot killed and its passenger injured almost injured and near death. It was unlikely that Overgård was going to survive beforehand, but his odds just got even tougher now...

Called by Mikkelsen as "by far the most difficult shoot [he's] ever done", the film makes the most out of having him in pretty much every shot. There's no room for the actor to get a breather as his character finds himself in situations where the the chances of survival get slimmer by the second. It's pretty much the definition of thriller, and it remains unpredictable right the way to the very end. With most survival stories you know you're going to get a happy ending from the word go, but I never really had that with this film, mainly due to its incredibly bleak nature. It's not all dour though, there are one or two moments of black comedy that served as a way to lighten the mood. But treasure them while you can.

One of the main elements that feels so refreshing about this film is that there's no romance subplot, which the drama could have easily included yet never felt like it was needed. It's something that the film breaks away from by not showing any flashbacks throughout, refusing to pad its runtime and keeping only the important scenes in. Every scene adds something new to the movie, which is only a good thing. Director Joe Penna masters the landscapes and the elements to make everything feel like it's out to get Overgård, and it works in its favour.

It's important to note as well that we never get to learn much about Overgård beyond his name, but it rarely hinders the film's likeability as you find yourself quickly wanting him to survive which is crucial in a film like this where he's pretty much the only main character. It's almost incredibly refreshing to see Mikkelsen in a non-villainous role too, and hopefully this means that he'll avoid being typecast in future films. Here, he shows that he's capable of putting in an every-man performance to rival the best of them.

Arctic is a fantastic example in tension and how to create a good atmosphere, and is not only one of the best films of the year, but also on of the best in its genre. It can't come recommended enough. Keep an eye out for this film airing in the UK at The London Film Festival next month, where as of now, tickets are currently available on the BFI website here for all three days that it is airing. It is available in Cinemas and on digital HD from January 4.


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