Considering disaster/survival films grounded in reality are limited by their settings, scenarios and plot structures, so have a set path to travel, writer/director Joe Penna and co-writer Ryan Morrison, enthral from the outset with debut feature, Arctic. Their captivating, soul rocking, cinematic reality-check enlightens and edifies via life-affirming slides and epiphanies woven by film-making “whippersnappers” with the artistry of veterans.
The story starts in the aftermath of a plane crash, introducing sole passenger/pilot Overgard (Mads Mikkelsen) panting while carving “SOS” in the snow. This is as much as we ever know about our lead in terms of his résumé specifics, but over the course of his 97 minute battle for survival we learn what’s important.
Penna and Morrison ensure minor devices have staggering impacts which combine to make their debut as startling as it is devastating. Drama is mined from the finest of facets and silent, stark landscapes that are striking but life threatening when crafted into art/ weapons. Overgard’s humdrum routine seems frequently dream-like and magical due to the manner in which his minor moments are captured and adorned by orchestral whispers from composer Joseph Trapanese, which rumble into crescendo waves before crashing.
Overgard fishing/ scooping arctic trout into his mouth while lost in personal space is dwelled on, while beastly footprints change the pace as panic drains Overgard’s face when a polar bear arrives. Overgard then sets out on a quest to find a seasonal station, but dead ends, detours and setbacks arise, intensifying his plight.
Arctic twists terror from awe via striking cinematography (by Tomas Orn Tomasson). The plot takes the hard road, but is worth every step, and resonates as, as brave, pliant and proficient as its protagonist. Penna and Morrison arouse a twisted mass of emotions and mine substance from the everyday. Overgard eating a hunk of raw pot noodle like crunchy, plastic fruit is both poignant and hilarious. The viewer is also often forced to ponder with the protagonist who frequently loses himself in thought while the camera whirs on.
Without corpses to eat or a volleyball to talk to, Overgard’s agony is focused but extreme and makes Arctic more engrossing, especially with such astounding surroundings augmenting the story and set-pieces. At 97 minutes, the film doesn’t fly, but retains an edge that will keep one guessing which way it could turn at any moment. It’s awesome, enthralling and challenging with the power to dissolve extreme cine veterans into snowflakes and make the weak strengthen up enough to stifle moans after stepping on upturned plugs, or knocking naked funny bones.