11th October 2018 9.00pm at Picturehouse Central
12th October 2018 8.45pm at Prince Charles Cinema
17th October 2018 1.15pm at BFI Southbank (NFT)
A man stands stark against the bleak, icy expanse of the Arctic. Beneath looming snow-covered peaks, he is but a stitch in a vast, wintry tapestry of white. And yet, once you bear witness to the emotional blizzard that is his painstaking, nail-biting journey, you’ll be hard-pressed not to be swept up.
Artic, the directorial debut of Joe Penna, is not revolutionary in format. Plotwise, it’s a classic survival movie, a well-versed tale of man vs. nature. The premise is simple: just when a man stranded in the Arctic is on the brink of salvation, the helicopter attempting to rescue him crashes, killing the pilot and leaving a critically wounded passenger, and a map, in his hands. He must now decide whether to sit tight in relative safety or risk a perilous journey to the nearest manned station. But what sets this movie apart, thawing through the frost like a piercing ray of sunlight, is Mads Mikkelsen. Even as his face loses colour, the Danish actor’s eyes maintain a fierce humanity, a warmth and empathy that animates every second of the film’s runtime.
Indeed, this is a feature which explores the very essence of what makes us human. The pacing of the picture maps out a clever transition from order to chaos. We begin rhythmically with the regular beeping of a watch and a cycle of shots: checking the fishing rods, searching for signal, maintaining the SOS sign. But as the piece progresses, the wild becomes unruly and the hours begin to merge. The protagonist’s attempts to build a shelter against the storm – to create some kind of home – become smaller and smaller, from plane cabin to cave to sleeping bag, but this brings with it a closer proximity and an unspoken intimacy. There is next to no talking, but poignant symbols such as a creased family photograph speak louder than any words. When there is dialogue, the humour of the script shines through. In the midst of tragedy, small mutters of “you’ve got to be kidding me” come as a comforting surprise in the midst of a tempest.
Having said this, the thriller never allows us to slouch back into our seats, and Penna manages to keep us gripped even in the seemingly static moments. When it comes to inducing cardiac arrest, a couple of scenes stand out: the first a predictable but no less effective jump-scare which causes a ripple through the audience, and the second a cringe-worthy 127 Hours-eque sequence which draws out audible gasps. On top of this, the feature is emotionally raw. While the protagonist is weighed down by his wounded companion, even heavier is the burden of his guilt. And there is only so much he can bear before something starts to crack.
Arctic is a cleverly constructed ode our ongoing battle against the elements. Beautiful cinematography captures the stunning versatility of the landscape, from shimmering snow blowing mirage-like through the air to roaring winds which engulf all, to serene light glowing turquoise through the ice in a manner mimicking stained glass. But however mesmerising the vista, it is Mikkelsen’s captivating performance which elevates this movie above its counterparts.
Arctic does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch a clip from Arctic here: