Lyric Review: ‘Arctic’ delivers complexity with simplicity

Ty Davis

“Arctic” undeniably deserves the praise it has received from press and viewers alike ever since it’s debut at the Cannes Film Festival last year.

Few could ask for a better feature film debut than what writer and director Joe Penna has received. Known more famously by his YouTube pseudonym MysteryGuitarMan, Penna has previously directed four short films and numerous television series in addition to his extensive YouTube work.


The story follows a pilot named Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen) after becoming stranded somewhere in the arctic circle for an undisclosed, yet seemingly significant amount of time based on visual cues, attempting various methods of attracting help while also attempting to survive. When a helicopter attempting to save him crashes in a storm and leaves a survivor (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir), Overgård must decide if he’s going to try to nurse her back to health at the safety of his makeshift camp or make the trek to an outpost miles away.

Now Playing: “Arctic” is playing at The Lyric Cinema

What separates “Arctic” from other survival stories of man vs. nature like “Castaway” is that the film imagines the story in one of the most inhospitable parts of the world for human beings. The film has a comfortable 90-minute runtime, to its benefit, as extending the story in such a barebones setting would likely stretch the material too far or have the script grasping for any piece of narrative tension it can concoct. Luckily, the film takes a very realistic approach to the premise of being stuck in the Arctic and avoids imagining outlandish scenarios meant to fill time.

The film relies heavily on the premise that once you’re already in the worst possible scenario, there is no need for creating impossibly bleak situations, as any small thing can make real impacts. Things like not storing your food properly, conserving your energy, resource planning, steep hills and wind resistance can have huge consequences in such a harsh environment.

Mads Mikkelsen really sells the sheer depravity of the situation. It’s easy to understand how gratifying it would feel to receive small resources or how terrifying the environment can be, but Mikkelsen really hammers home the point when we see Overgård moved from elated with the most earnest joy, to wretched by utter fear and despair. Mikkelsen demonstrates once again why he is regarded as an accomplished actor as he completely sells the role of tired man in utter desperation and no options left but the most life-threatening one.

If I had to sum up the philosophy of this movie it would be that you can do a lot with a little. Yes the story is very minimalist, but this approach extends to everything from the cinematography, the performances and even the music. Everything in this film is simple but effective at conveying what it wants to. Most of the film is quiet except for when the music cues in to show Overgård’s thinking and desperation. The scenes in this movie dwarf Overgård compared to the environment to show the sheer power his environment has over him. The film finds every way it can to tell all the necessary information through small but significant visual communication.

With such a strong demonstration of the fundamentals of filmmaking, I am excited to see where Penna goes with more resources at his disposal.

Ty Davis can be reached or Twitter @tydavisACW