“Arctic” arrives in Seattle theaters at a time when many of us might not feel like settling in for a tale of survival against frozen elements. But Mads Mikkelsen makes this man-against-nature arm-wrestling film compelling. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
A movie that finds its voice in the caustic scrape of snow against a makeshift shovel, “Arctic” arrives in Seattle theaters at a time when many of us might not feel like settling in for a tale of survival against frozen elements. But, if tense man-against-nature arm-wrestling is your jam (think Robert Redford in “All Is Lost,” but with snow and Mads Mikkelsen) this film makes for a compelling hour and a half; you know where it’s going, but you never quite believe it’ll actually get there.
Mikkelsen, in what’s mostly a one-man show, plays Overgard, whose small plane has crashed somewhere in the Arctic before the film’s story begins. He’s figured out how to survive — fishing through the ice, sheltering in the remains of his plane, waiting patiently for a passing plane to spot him. But when one does, his problems aren’t solved: A helicopter crash-lands near him, and its surviving passenger (Maria Thelma Smaradottir) seems near death. Overgard must leave his camp’s safe shelter, dragging the woman on a makeshift sledge behind him, and seek help.
We learn next to nothing about Overgard, except that he has superhuman strength, rudimentary med-tech skills and a stoic determination. But in the hands of Mikkelsen, that’s enough; with little dialogue, he finds drama in the way this man so carefully chews on raw fish, or gazes quietly at the woman, wondering what her untold story might be. (The film basically uses her as a prop to be hauled around; that anyone could survive what this barely conscious woman endures seems beyond far-fetched.)
Writer/director Joe Penna, filming in Iceland, makes the most of his setting, finding the hard diamond glint of snow in icy sunshine, and the pale-lavender hue of the evening sky. If it all feels a bit too close to home during the Seattle Snowpocalypse, save this one for streaming next summer; I can imagine it could be quite pleasantly chilling.
★★★ ”Arctic,” with Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smaradottir. Directed by Joe Penna, from a screenplay by Penna and Ryan Morrison. 98 minutes. Rated PG-13 for language and some bloody images. Opens Feb. 15 at Pacific Place.