You don’t always hear talk of it when people discuss the core movie genres, but I’d wager that survival thrillers have firmly established a category all their own, seeing as they play to the same beats whether they’re as technically ambitious as Life of Pi or as aesthetically simple as Buried (not to knock one or the other). No matter what their setting or what kinds of conditions its protagonists are aiming to face, they generally take them on similar journeys, particularly seeing as something as base-level as survival can be interpreted by any culture and doesn’t really allow for the narrative complication that civilization provides. So you’ll see a lot of familiar moments in these kinds of flicks, the most notorious of which revolving around the prospect of almost being rescued as a means of ratcheting up the tension, whether it be the character’s delusion or not. And like that one they’re forgivable sins, so long as the performances are true and the camerawork sells the situation. Such is the case with Arctic, which sees a man aiming to survive isolation in the Arctic Circle. While it’s not without those same clichés, it’s also not without the human element, brilliantly elevated by one hell of a turn from Mads Mikkelsen.
Arctic picks up with a man known only as Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen) aiming to survive the arctic winter after his plane has seemingly gone down. His elation at finally being able to flag down a passing helicopter one day soon turns to dismay when it too is brought down by aggressive winds. While the pilot is killed, in the wreckage is a survivor in the form of an unnamed young woman (María Thelma Smáradóttir). Incredibly weakened from the crash and in a state of immobility, she is cared for by Overgård. When Overgård has reason to believe there may be people currently residing at a seasonal research station relatively nearby, Overgård makes the decision to abandon the wreckage of the plane and risk the trek there with the young woman in tow. But when unforeseen complications extend the projected two-day trip to that of five days, Overgård will have to decide whether it is more important that they survive together, or that he just survive period.
That in effect was the little bit of a narrative spark that really got me into this one. Suddenly what was already an impressively crafted and well acted survival thriller became something so much more memorable. I mean, I never really doubted where it would ultimately go, but the fact that it had me question it and myself in the bargain was well worth the price of admission. Not to mention that the cinematography and the like alone were already enough for me to give this one a passing grade. I have some issues with the ending, namely the final shot, but again, I’m pretty forgiving of survival thrillers when opportunity for creative freedom is fairly limited. This is going to turn out to be an uncommonly short review, but when a movie is so wonderfully accessible and candid, there’s not a whole lot to say. Though this might now be my favorite performance from Mikkelsen. On the big screen, that is. I’m still lobbying for a fourth season of Hannibal.
Final Score: 9/10