This review was originally published as part of our London Film Festival coverage on 27/09/2018.
It’s still relatively rare for internet stars to make a successful leap into cinema, but that is, for the most part, what Joe Penna has done with Arctic. One of the original YouTube celebrities under the guise ‘Mystery Guitar Man,’ Penna’s directorial debut is full of admirable ambition, even if it is flawed.
Arctic is not a typical ‘first film,’ stranding Mads Mikkelsen alone in a frozen wasteland as he attempts to survive against an unforgiving and savagely beautiful backdrop. As the only survivor of a plane crash, we see his daily routines of fishing and vainly signalling for help. Bleakness abounds and he’s losing time.
A helicopter crashes during a disastrous rescue attempt, killing the pilot and severely injuring the co-pilot (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir). Caring for her gives our survivor a newfound sense of purpose as he sets out to a distant research station, dragging his companion on a sled.
The whole film rests on Mikkelsen’s shoulders, and he does a mighty job to keep it afloat, more primal in his charisma than we’re used to from more calculated roles like Hannibal. He captures the fear and loneliness of Arctic isolation affectingly, as well the brutal cold and exhaustion, every minute of survival requiring Herculean exertion.
Though there are some lovely shots and cathartic moments, the rest of the film doesn’t rise to Mikkelsen’s performance. The score is very on the nose, and Penna and co-writer Ryan Morrison have a habit of pushing things too far. There’s also a few too many disasters, and the ending stretches on for a lot longer than is effective.
Penna shows great potential as a filmmaker with Arctic, and Mikkelsen proves more than capable of anchoring a 90 minute film pretty much on his own, but some clumsy mistakes hold it back.
CAST: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir
DIRECTOR: Joe Penna
WRITERS: Joe Penna, Ryan Morrison
SYNOPSIS: A man stranded in the Arctic is finally about to receive his long awaited rescue. However, after a tragic accident, his opportunity is lost. He must then decide whether to remain in the relative safety of his camp or to embark on a deadly trek through the unknown for potential salvation.