“Arctic:” A More Suspenseful Take on the Survival Genre


Lucian Cosson, Staff Writer

The movie “Arctic,” directed by Joe Penna, tells the grueling story of a man who becomes stranded in the Arctic after a plane crash and has to find a way to make it out alive. Penna, previously known on YouTube as Mystery Guitar Man, gained popularity for his impressive song covers with everyday objects like rubber bands and balloons. Penna has only just recently started branching out to short films and “Arctic,” starring Mads Mikkelsen, is Penna’s first full length movie.

Mikkelsen plays the unnamed explorer who is now stranded in the Arctic after crashing. Initially the solo explorer lives with surprisingly impressive ease for someone who has been stranded in the arctic for two months. In addition to his map and watch, he has a fishing line going into the ice that alerts him when a fish bites, a frozen locker that acts as storage for the fish, and a radio that he uses in hopes of getting a signal. Things however do not stay this comfortable for a man stranded in the arctic for long. He soon realizes that he has to move to a station, which, according to his map, is a few days away. The main plot of the movie begins as the main character begins his slow and grinding journey across the arctic. He has to use all of the energy he has left to pull a heavy load up icy hills and safely avoid the polar bear roaming around on the horizon to protect himself and his limited food supply. Accompanied by long, wide shots of the arctic, the viewer patiently watches as the stranded explorer is pushed to his limits in trying to hopefully make it to the station where there just might be help.

Despite having no dialogue throughout the whole film, Mikkelsen delivers a very powerful performance. The film is eerily quiet for the majority of the time and every breath and grunt that interrupts the constant drone of the icy arctic winds feels genuinely authentic. Additionally, Mikkelsen’s expressions and and body language convince the viewer how desperate and defeated he is, but still so determined to survive.

Penna definitely does an impressive job, especially given “Arctic” is his first full length film. The viewer really gets an idea of how terrifying it would be to be stranded in the unfamiliar environment of the arctic with every inch of the ground covered in snow and ice and nothing to see but white for miles. The many shots of a single explorer alone against the vast icy canvas of the tundra emphasizes how alone he really is and makes the viewer feel anxious about escaping the arctic. While the explorer is seen to have frostbitten fingers and toes, and has his beard covered in ice, the true extent of the cold is not felt much by the viewer. Besides the story taking place in the Arctic, there is little information to show that the main character is suffering from the cold. There is no effect on the plot of the film at all, and this is an element of the movie that certainly could have and should have been explored more.

“Arctic” makes the survival scenario seem more realistic and makes the viewer feel more suspense, whereas other movies in the genre like “Castaway” focuses the viewer’s attention on another aspect besides purely surviving. Because “Arctic” focuses solely on the task of the character surviving, there is much more urgency and the viewer is fully engaged throughout the entire movie. “Arctic” serves as a unique addition to the survival movie genre and provides a refreshing and more suspenseful take on the story of a solo survivor.