Arctic, a notably quiet and captivating slow-build adventure film, starring Mads Mikkelsen as a researcher-explorer who has crash-landed in the frozen wilderness, is the latest example of a genre we know in our bones, one that feels so familiar it’s almost comforting.
It’s the first feature directed by Joe Penna, the protean Brazilian video auteur who became a sensation on YouTube, so you might expect it to be made with a touch of 21st-century flash. On the contrary: Penna tells this tale of self-rescue with a plainly carpentered austerity […]. There are no cut corners, no overly blatant only-in-the-movies gambits. Mikkelsen’s stranded pilot has little to rely on beyond his will, so we feel at every step that he could truly be us.
Penna works in what you might call a gratifyingly prosaic style. He doesn’t wow you (though the film, in its level way, is elegantly shot). But he doesn’t cheat you, either, so you come to trust the gravity of his nuts-and-bolts storytelling. The movie is built around the gruff mystique of Mads Mikkelsen, who never betrays a hint of showiness. Mikkelsen’s height and stalwart presence fill the frame, and his face looks inward and outward at the same time; it’s tense, focused, ravaged, not afraid to be a little blank.
The movie, in its indie way, is the anti-Cast Away. Yet that’s what’s good and, finally, moving about it. It lets survival look like the raw experience it is.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety