Arctic is a challenging survival film about a lone pilot (Danish star Mads Mikkelsen) stranded in a snowy wilderness whipped by howling winds and icy rain.
Hardly a word is spoken for a nail-biting 97 minutes but director Joe Penna keeps the tension high as Mikkelsen delivers a compelling performance as the tough and resourceful hero, Overgard.
The film opens with Mikkelsen on his knees scraping the frozen snow away from the black rock below.
It’s not clear what he is doing until Tomas Orn Tomasson’s camera pulls back to a sweeping aerial shot which shows Overgard’s tiny figure trudging away from an enormous SOS sign formed by the exposed black rock.
It also shows the cause of his predicament: a small orange and white plane downed in the snow, with one wing snapped in half.
The stranded pilot is clearly a man of many talents, equipped with all the skills a lone survivor needs.
Inside the crashed plane he has made a cosy refuge. Outside he has rigged up a fishing line in a hole cut through the ice, with a clanking piece of metal signalling whenever a fish bites.
He keeps his catch in a box from which he takes out a fish for his dinner, carving off a piece and eating it raw.
His daily routine includes manually cranking a signal transmitter, in the hope that someone will hear him.
Suddenly a rescue helicopter appears, its pilot battling valiantly against the powerful wind which tosses it through the air, then flips it over to crash into the snow.
Mikkelsen’s face is frozen in disbelief. He stomps through the snow to the crashed helicopter, finds one pilot dead and the other, a woman (Icelandic actor Maria Thelma Smaradottir), injured and unconscious.
After patching her stomach wound, Overgard must decide whether to stay put and hope for a rescue, or whether to set off in search of help.
He bundles the semi-conscious woman onto a makeshift sled and heads off across the desolate wasteland. At least he has a detailed map, salvaged from the helicopter, but it is a gruelling task to drag the heavy sled across the rocky terrain.
As he struggles up a small slope the sled breaks free time after time, sliding down to the bottom again. He reassesses, changes his route and carries on.
In another terrifying moment a snarling polar bear tries to break into a tiny cave where the couple are sheltering from a blizzard. He uses one of his precious flares to scare it away.
Mikkelsen is magnificent as he wordlessly expresses Overgard’s hopes, fears, determination and despair.
At 53, he showed amazing strength and stamina to get through this demanding shoot in the stark Icelandic outback.
This is a memorable first feature film for Brazilian director Penna, who co-wrote the script with his editor Ryan Morrison.
Arctic, showing in Perth Festival’s Lotterywest Film Season at ECU Joondalup Pines until 16 December.
Watch the trailer…