“It doesn’t take long for Arctic to establish itself as one of the best movies ever made about a man stranded in the wilderness.
As the film opens, days after a pilot named Overgård (Danish star Mads Mikkelsen; At Eternity’s Gate, The Hunt, A Royal Affair) has crashed his plane in the middle of nowhere, we see that our protagonist has had time to convert the busted fuselage into a homey little shelter, dig out a massive S.O.S. in the snow, and fill a freezer with the bony fish he’s snagged from beneath the ice. And then—as Overgård is trying to stab a trout in a snowstorm—he spots a rescue helicopter cutting its way towards him. It promptly crashes, the winds driving the chopper headfirst into the ground.
This is when Arctic starts to thaw into something unexpectedly rich and humane. You expect Overgård to sprint over the nearest ridge so he can get a clear view of the wreckage, but… he doesn’t. On the contrary, he just stands in place, as though his feet were stuck to the snow. The disappointment in his eyes is obvious, but we also note the lack of disbelief—how surprising can a disaster really be after so many days spent waiting for death?
As it turns out, one of the two helicopter pilots (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) is still alive, if only just, with an infected wound on her abdomen. Assessing the pilot’s condition as critical, Overgård sets off overland, tobogganing his new friend across the Arctic like some kind of frozen Fitzcarraldo.
Arctic works because it’s so believable. Penna has packed the film with incident and excitement, with even the most Hollywood moments obeying a certain logic. More than that, Penna finds ways to infuse real drama into mundane details. We always know where the characters are and what’s at stake with each step, so that watching Mikkelsen turn a sled into a makeshift shelter achieves the excitement of a major setpiece.
The brunt of Arctic’s power exists between Mikkelsen and the man he’s playing. Overgård needs someone to live for, even if he’s not the person who ultimately needs to live for them. Movies like this are typically only exciting because the hero might die. Arctic is compelling because Overgård might not.” (David Ehrlich, Indiewire)
“Mikkelsen hurls himself into proceedings. It’s a performance of intense commitment, one where every grunt and yowl feels agonisingly authentic.” (Gwilym Mumford, The Guardian)
“There’s plenty to admire in this trim, nearly dialogue-free 97-minute drama, not least Mads Mikkelsen’s raw performance as a downed airman waiting for rescue in the Arctic wastes, and the widescreen majesty of the Icelandic landscapes that stand in for the film’s polar setting.” (Lee Marshall, Screen International)
“Arctic doesn’t employ too many fancy tricks or frills: It’s just a simple, straight-ahead survival drama that lets Mikkelsen showcase his considerable acting chops, leaving viewers as impressed with his stamina as we are with his character’s.” (Alissa Wilkinson, Vox)