The 'survival film' genre has a few tropes, one of them being the dialogue or lack thereof. Arctic is squarely in the latter, as there is not much conversation even when we have two people. Arctic is not a bad film, but its sparseness makes it a bit of a slog to sit through.
Overgard (Mads Mikkelsen) has been surviving out in the Arctic after his plane crash relatively well all things considered. His life is regimented via his watch alarm, which tells him when to eat, sleep, wake and send out his daily distress signal. One day, he actually gets a reply and even spots a helicopter.
Overgard, however, must have the worst luck in the world, as the rescue helicopter itself crashes, leaving only a young Female Copilot (Maria Thelma Smaradottir) surviving but barely conscious. He does his best to care for her but knows this young mother needs greater rescuing than he. With that, Overgard takes her across the Arctic to an isolated station the helicopter map indicates.
This is a journey of several days, not easy for Overgard even if he were in perfect shape, let alone with an unconscious woman with him. Nevertheless, he goes, encountering polar bears, falls down crevices and the brutal cold until perhaps finding the help both desperately need.
Arctic is obviously meant to be a harrowing adventure/survival story, but writer/director Joe Penna (cowriting with Ryan Morrison) could not make it either. I kept thinking that Arctic could have worked as a short film, and even at a mere 98 minutes Arctic seemed to stretch on longer than the endless vistas we saw.
I think it might be because once the rescue helicopter happened to get caught up in a windstorm I thought, "great, now it's going to crash, there'll be one survivor, probably injured, and they'll finally move". Is it fair to say Arctic was a bit predictable in what would happen?
As the film goes on, I fought my own battle to stay awake, with Joseph Trapanese's admittedly excellent score with its Music from the Hearts of Space tone not helping. I half-expected to hear Stephen Hill softly intone, "A winter's journey called Arctic on this transmission of Hearts of Space". The copilot, whose backstory is filled with just a photo of her, an infant and a man whom I figure are her child and husband, didn't have anything to say. My thinking is that at least if she had been conscious or at least not as injured they could have had something to say that breaks the monotony.
Arctic is blessed with Mads Mikkelsen's performance. We see a man who seemed quite unruffled yet steadily determined to get rescued. Mikkelsen is an actor who needs to do more, and Arctic is a good performance in a slow-moving film. In his silences and in his few bits of dialogue we see Overgard as a survivor, so that's a plus. Smaradorrit, however, didn't have much to do. Granted, that was the part but one wonders if perhaps giving her more agency could have done the film well.
On the whole though, Arctic will try audiences' patience, or perhaps not. Perhaps the dire situation will keep people wondering if they do make it. They'll leave having to wonder as the ending is a bit ambiguous on that matter, leaving the faint possibility that they barely missed surviving, maybe not. I figure that was the intention. Whether one likes it or not is up to the viewer.
Again, Arctic is not a bad film but it can be a difficult one to sit through.