In "Arctic," directed by Joe Penna, Mads Mikkelson plays Overgård, a man whose plane has crashed, leaving him stuck in the wintry landscape of Antarctica, where the extreme conditions could lead to death if help doesn’t come soon enough. Overgård clearly has solid survival skills: he transforms the plane into a warm shelter, and he concocts devices to catch fish from what is left of the plane wreckage. He’s even found a way to radio for help through a handy transmitter. However, when the rescue does finally show up though, nothing goes as planned. A turbulent snowstorm causes another plane crash with the only survivor a young woman who goes in and out of consciousness. From there, Overgård decides to head further north on a harrowing journey to reach a rescue station. Carrying the woman’s body on a sled, Overgård’s heavily-charged trek is a daunting one. Despite the beautiful natural scenery, the wintry mountains are savagely precarious and one misstep can spell doom.
I wrote a negative review of the film back in May when I saw it at Cannes:
When a director decides to tackle a genre that has been dealt with many times before, comparisons to far superior films are inevitable. And so, a film like Joe Penna's "Arctic" will no doubt run the risk of being compared to its spiritual predecessors Danny Boyle's "127 Hours," J.C. Chandor's "All is Lost" and Joe Carnahan's "The Grey." That in itself already weakens it, but like all great art, if imitation can transcend or even equal its inspirations then all the better for it.
The minimalism is amped up with a score by Joseph Trapanese (The Raid, Oblivion, The Greatest Showman), whose music is never overused to emphasize Overgård's achievements and defeats in the face of death. However, "Arctic" barely registers as a standout of the genre because Penna constantly wrestles in trying to make the minimalism interesting. If "All is Lost" and "127 Hours" were artfully conceived exercises where the directors thought of every aspect of the mise-en-scene, Penna just isn't talented enough to pull it off. "Arctic" has none of the transcendence that was achieved in the aforementioned movies. It doesn't help that the young woman our main protagonist has to drag along for the ride is recovering from a debilitating injury and barely registers a word throughout.
"Arctic" is Penna's first attempt at feature filmmaking, and there are moments of inspiration that do show a potential future in the field. The simplicity of the film is commendable, but it's only in its last third that things finally come together and any kind of visceral thrill and involvement appears, but by then it's too little too late as even Mikkelson's on-screen talents can't save a stagnant film in dire need of a heartbeat.