(Release Info UK schedule; May 24th, 2019, Phoenix Cinema and Art Centre,
4 Midland Street, Leicester, LE1 1TG, 5:30pm)
A man stranded in 'The Arctic' after an airplane crash must decide whether to remain in the relative safety of his makeshift camp or to embark on a deadly trek through the unknown in hopes of making it out alive. Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen), the sole survivor of a plane crash in an icy wasteland, lives by his wits as he waits for help to arrive. He's a resourceful yet increasingly desperate man stranded in a remote, snow-covered wilderness. But when a long-awaited rescue effort fails, he faces a life-or-death decision; remain in the relative safety of his camp and hope to be found, or embark on an arduous trek that may be the only hope for both him and a critically injured stranger.
The film opens with a scene of a man digging in the snow that's difficult to understand until we pull back into an extremely wide shot. Later, an unidentified ringing turns out to be Overgård’s makeshift signal that there's a fish on the line; his only source of food. A small pile of rocks in the beginning of the film is clearly important to him but is not explained immediately. We don’t start with the crash. We start much later. Before it happened, would they've thought this is something they could do? All of that goes into the creation of what this character does and what drives him to a completely selfless act. The ingeniously improvised solutions that Overgård outfits provide clues to his character. He’s not some kind of MacGyver who can make a radio out of tin foil, but he can create fishing lures from his own hair. From early on, it's imperative that Overgård be a stencil of a human being. In addition to extreme weather conditions and the threat of starvation, Overgård faces constant danger from a hungry polar bear that looms distantly over the action. The film hints at the bear’s presence with a sharply clawed paw here and rattling rocks there to indicate it's presence. When the solitude is shattered by the appearance of a marauding polar bear, the camera begins following Overgård like a bear tracking prey. Showing a live bear is a far more powerful choice.
There are no hints to his past life, no flashbacks or photographs in his wallet, not even the glint of a wedding ring. There's no flashback scene explaining his backstory, as there's in every classic survival film. But the film never fell into that trap. Overgård is a man whose only objective is survival. Our hero can be seen solely in the actions he takes in response to what he's currently encountering. It’s a story that takes place purely in the moment. The lack of exposition is intended to encourage the audience to lean closer and decipher each moment. It's probable that each person will arrive at different conclusions. Where is he from and what is he doing in 'The Arctic'? Why does he care so much about someone he doesn’t know? We don’t know. His inner thoughts are never externalized. It isn't important to the story whether he has a family or how he got where he's. Of course, there's someone he loves. It’s implicit. But by the time the film starts he's barely alive. None of that matters. He said smart enough to invent the things he needs to get by. And that’s all the audience needs to know. When the helicopter sent to retrieve him crashes, his priorities suddenly change. The girl (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) makes life important. The photo of her family reminds him of what it's like to be alive. It’s a subtle reminder that he has someone, but no photo. He suddenly has a purpose, not simply a survival instinct. It's a magical thing for to have someone to relate to finally.
Filmed in Iceland under grueling conditions, "Arctic" marks the feature debut of director Joe Penna, creator of the innovative and popular 'YouTube' channel 'Mystery Guitar Man'. "Arctic" is a captivating, white knuckle cinematic experience that explores our insurmountable will to survive and overcome. "Arctic" was shot in the intimidating highlands of Iceland, a sparsely populated volcanic plateau where roads become impassable during the winter. The tundra is the harshest survivable environment on Earth, making it the perfect place for the story, but the issues that the terrain and weather posed for Overgård in the film are reflected in reality. Winds blows up to 40 miles an hour. Car doors broke off their hinges in the wind and tumbled hundreds of feet. The weather changes at a moment’s notice, shifting from sleet and rain to clear and sunny. "Arctic" offers limited dialogue to tell a riveting story in a 98-minute film. The film devises a unique cinematographical structure, the first 20 minutes without pans or tilts or dolly shots to emphasize the fact that Overgård is utterly alone, almost as if a remote camera is capturing the action.
"Arctic" underscores the visuals with sound that completely encompasses you as the wind blows in from every direction. A visually dynamic world amidst Iceland’s grey mountain ranges, blue sky and white snow. The fragility of a human being lost in the vast and inhospitable environment is starkly demonstrated in a shot of Overgård seen as a mere dot of red crossing an endless ocean of ice and snow, slogging his way through a howling gale, barely visible through heavy spindrift. Audiences will be asking themselves whether they could withstand a close encounter with nature at it's most merciless. The idea of having to survive against all odds has a universal quality. At first, our immediate fascination will leave us trying to determine what we would do. When you speak to people forced into that kind of situation, you realize we don’t know what we can tap into. We’ve all heard about mothers who somehow manage to lift a car off of their child. The same has happened with people saving strangers.
The endurance is there not just for ourselves, but also for people we don’t even know. The complications of a story about a group of people stuck in a lifeboat without enough supplies or someone shipwrecked on an island for seven years is apparent to most people, without having to know how they got there. The imperative to stay alive. It's not just humans; it’s innate in all living creatures. And though his resolve may waver, Overgård forces himself to march on as he risks his life, however more difficult or unwise, to save another. Even as his hopes of survival dwindle, he perseveres. Despite all that, this film is a parable of man against nature. “Arctic" is about the endurance of altruism even under extreme circumstances. Overgård inspires us to carry a bit of his courage out of the theater with us. It's a film that can’t just play in the background. You've to be completely engaged. You've to be actively creating your own version of the film in your head. It's a quietly gripping journey through a perilous polar wasteland.