Arctic review — Brilliant, brutal ice-bound thriller

Directed by Joe Penna | Written by Penna and Ryan Morrison | 98 min | Prime Video

It’s a fairly successful sub-genre, the survivor against the elements thriller. Sometimes it features someone or a group of someones adrift in the ocean—Cast AwayAdrift, Styx, or All Is Lost—or crossing the desert or mountains—Tracks or The Way Back—or stuck somewhere unforgiving—127 hours—or in space—The Martian or Gravity. It’s not a broad range of features, but they’re a surprisingly compelling bunch. Arctic can join the group with distinction.

Not to be confused with his Netflix action thriller out now, Polar—Mads Mikkelsen is a pilot, H. Overgård is the only name we know him by, whose plane has gone down in trackless wastes of snow, presumably somewhere above the Arctic circle. He speaks Danish, so this could be northern Norway, or even Greenland, though it was actually shot and produced in Iceland. He’s been ice fishing to stay alive, and trying to signal any nearby craft to his position. It isn’t long before one finds him, but it’s in a storm and it goes down, too. Then he has to care for another pilot, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir, who’s in a lot worse shape than he is. You get the impression he might stay in the hull of his stricken plane until he’s rescued, but realizing that his new companion is more in need of medical assistance than he is, they set off.

This is a picture where only a handful of words are spoken, but that hardly matters in a story as stark and dramatic as this one. The evocative direction brings a harrowing sense of verisimilitude, while a haunting, plaintive score helps set the tone. And full credit to Mikkelsen’s effortful grit, delivering all the emotional commitment required for us to understand what’s really at stake here.

Arctic opens on Friday, February 22, at the Park Lane Cinema in Halifax

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.