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With: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir
Written by: Joe Penna, Ryan Morrison
Directed by: Joe Penna
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and some bloody images
Running Time: 97
Date: 02/01/2019

Arctic (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Cold Sweat

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

With a refreshing lack of exposition or padding, this lean, minimalist survival movie rises far above the genre's usual examples, with much credit going to the sturdy, determined lead performance.

In Arctic, a man called Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen) digs meticulously in the snow. He finishes, and it is revealed that he has made a giant SOS sign, visible from the air. He makes his way back to a crashed plane. He has apparently been there for some time, and has a routine, checking fishing lines, sending out a hand-cranked radio signal, sleeping. One day he receives a signal back and a helicopter arrives. But due to high winds, it crashes.

Overgård rescues an unconscious woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) from the wreckage, as well as whatever supplies he can salvage. He begins to doctor her, but realizes that, in order for them both to survive, he's going to have to hike to the nearest rescue station. He charts a course and sets out, pulling the woman on a sled behind him. But despite his meticulous preparation, the journey holds in store many harrowing obstacles.

A feature debut by writer/director Joe Penna and co-writer Ryan Morrison, Arctic avoids a lot of the survival movie's unpleasant hand-wringing by skipping all the stuff that leads up to Overgård's situation. There's no plane crash, and no information as to who he is, what he was doing there, or who else may have been involved. It jumps right in, to the bare essentials, to the core of surviving.

It's somewhat comforting to follow a character like Overgård, who is already quite wise and clever about what measures to take in order to survive. We're in good hands, and we don't have to wait for costly mistakes to be made. The screenplay is compact and briskly-paced, with an interesting array of unexpected obstacles. Despite having only two characters, dialogue spoken out loud occurs infrequently.

The movie still has its woozy moments as when frostbite begins to set in, but Mikkelsen — perhaps best known for playing bad guys in Casino Royale and Doctor Strange, as well as TV's Hannibal — is commanding and immensely appealing. All in all, Arctic should make most audiences break out in a cold sweat.

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