Joe Penna/ Iceland USA/ 2018/ 97 mins
@ Edinburgh Filmhouse from Fri 17 May 2019
Arctic follows Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen), a pilot stranded somewhere in the Arctic circle waiting, hoping, for rescue whilst he resides in his crashed plane.
The first third of the film, for the most part, follows Overgård’s daily routine; checking fishing lines, running a distress signal and mapping his surroundings. Starting the film in such a manner was risky as it could have been seen as boring, but it is far from it, taking its time to show how human both the character and story are, as well as the character’s hope in an ultimately hopeless situation. That is until he gets a response to his distress call and a helicopter crew fly out to save him. Unfortunately, due to a snowstorm, the weather is far too brutal and the crew crash. With one dead and one severely injured Overgård knows he must do what he can to save both of their lives, stop waiting for rescue and instead rescue them both. What follows is a wonderful journey of survival through the Arctic loaded with some truly intense and horrifying moments.
It may have been Penna’s first time in the director’s chair on a feature film, but where others may stumble their first time around Penna comes across like a pro. The film itself has so many highlights to name them all would take a while, but two of them are certainly the writing and directing. Going hand in hand they both manage to create an enormous sense of dread whilst also maintaining hope. This is all helped by Tómas Örn Tómasson’s wonderful cinematography which is used to show the scope of the characters surroundings, representing just how small and insignificant they are in the grand scheme of things.
Starting off as a musician on Youtube in mid-2006, and having just released his feature-length directorial debut with Arctic, the story of Joe Penna is an interesting one for sure but it is clear that he is a director to look out for. Taking a run time of just under an hour and forty minutes as well as a modest $2 million budget he manages to make Arctic feel like a survival epic, whilst also getting one of the best performances of Mads Mikkelsen’s career. Arctic takes a beautiful story of human nature and the will to live and creates one of the best films of the year so far.