REVIEW: “Arctic” (2019)


To cut down on any potential confusion, Mads Mikkelsen has two 2019 movies with single-word titles related to the cold. The first is the trashy and rather repugnant “Polar” (don’t waste your time). The latest is “Arctic”, a much more tolerable and considerably better movie (most definitely see it).

“Arctic” is an Icelandic survival thriller with a Danish star and a Brazilian director/co-writer. The film marks YouTuber Joe Penna’s feature film directorial debut and let’s just say it’s quite the start. There’s certainly no shortage of man-versus-nature movies and I’ve always been a sucker for a good survival story. While “Arctic” very much fits into that mold, within the first fifteen minutes I could see the film carving out its own path.


The movie leans heavily on its star, Mads Mikkelsen who plays the lone survivor of a small plane crash deep in the Arctic Circle. We know nothing about this man other than he has been stranded for a while. What we do learn comes only from what we can observe. He’s a resourceful man who has turned the plane hull into a cabin of sorts. He has chiseled holes in the thick ice and ran fishing lines for catching trout. And like clockwork he hikes to higher ground where he churns on a hand-cranked device that emits a distress signal.

The movie seems fascinated with the how-to’s of survival and early on a lot of focus is put on his daily routine. But his situation changes dramatically after a helicopter picks up his signal. The chopper tries to land in a windstorm but violently crashes in the process. The pilot is killed but the co-pilot, a young woman played by Maria Thelma Smáradóttir, survives although with serious injuries.

The man gets the unconscious young woman back to his plane and begins treating her wounds. The equation has changed and he knows he can’t keep them both alive. A map in the helicopter wreckage points him to a seasonal shelter which he estimates to be about a two-day journey. The film’s second half sees him heading out across the frozen tundra pulling the young woman on a makeshift sled and with only a few supplies in tow.


“Arctic” is very much about the fight to survive against the most extreme elements and even nature itself. It’s just as much an exploration of the psychological toll. The man’s almost businesslike approach to staying alive changes when the young women arrives. She reinvigorates him and you see a new urgency. Penna shows a subtle hand in how he unearths the new emotions in the man, emotions that surpass simple sympathy.

It’s hard to think of anyone better equipped to lead this movie than Mads Mikkelsen. His tough exterior and rugged disposition is only outdone by his innate ability to speak volumes with so few words. And this is a movie of little dialogue which plays well to that particular strength of his.

“Arctic” was filmed in a remote section of Iceland over a 19 day span. Mikkelsen has called it the toughest shoot of his career, but the cinematic benefits make it worthwhile. The treacherous location makes for an often harrowing and utterly convincing experience. That’s key to what makes “Arctic” such a strong film. It’s a survival movie that does what the best ones do – immerses you in its setting and in the plight of its characters.



20 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Arctic” (2019)

  1. This has been on my radar since i saw the trailer.Mikkelsen is usually a very solid actor and I have always been intrigued by man against the elements type stories. So I will be checking this out for sure.
    On a side note, I agree with you on Polar . I didn’t even finish it. It was truly distasteful and repugnant indeed.

    • Oh man, I can’t recommend “Arctic” enough. It’s such a strong movie and Mikkelsen is absolutely perfect. I wish this had gotten a bigger release so more people would see it.

  2. Ha ha, I rather enjoyed Polar so I’m keen to check this one out too. Mads is a solid actor when he’s given the right material (and, despite the fun I had with it, Polar is so totally not the right material for HIM) so I have high hopes!

    • That’s funny because I think Mads could have really killed it in Polar. For me he was the best part. The rest I could hardly endure. Arctic is a MUCH different movie (as you can probably guess).

    • You must see it if at all possible. I found myself completely immersed. I’ve just wish it was showing in more theaters. Is it on anywhere around you that you know of?

      • Nope. It’s a shame that my local multiplex won’t play those kind of films as they don’t even play movies with gay themes. And the nearest art house theater is 15-20 minutes but I don’t have the time or money to drive all the way there.

      • I hate that. I really hope this movie doesn’t fall through the cracks. I know what you mean though. The nearest really good theater for me is 60 miles away!

  3. Nice review Keith. Admittedly you enjoyed this more than myself. Although I found Mads Mikkelsen’s performance to be top-notch (the way he expresses anger and bitter defeat at the film’s climax with hardly any dialogue is really quite extraordinary), much of the film lags within the middle section, where it felt like the characters just kept running into obstacle after obstacle. I understand that Penna is trying to overwhelm viewers and to make them feel as emotionally crushed as Mads’ character, but to me it was a bit overbearing. I thought Arctic had a very good introduction and conclusion, but that a lot of the meat in between was filler.

    • Thanks man. I gotta admit to loving the middle. I was drawn to this man trying to keep it together physically and psychologically while the wheels are clearly falling off. I also found it quite harrowing not to mention suspenseful. There were so many uncertainties that kept me on edge.

  4. I love Mads Mikkelsen! This sounds like a must-watch but it doesn’t seem to have had much coverage here in the UK 😦 I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled.

    • It’s absolutely a must-watch. Sadly it hasn’t gotten a big release here either. Luckily it came to a reasonably close theater that shows limited release films.

    • Awesome! I can’t tell you how glad I am to hear from someone else who has seen it. I’m a huge fan and fear it may slip by without many people even knowing about it. Mads is perfectly cast, isn’t he?

      • he absolutely is!! For me, even in the other movie you mention Polar – he can give Tom Cruise & Liam Neeson a run for their money as an action star. Granted the movie wasn’t great – but this one was – and he held my attention the whole time with this performance.

      • Great point on action movies. I think he can absolutely carry an action film. Yet he can also be great in a movie like this one and then do something completely different like The Hunt.

  5. Finally saw this movie. Totally immersed me into this stark and amazing landscape. It drew me in immediately to care for the plight he was going through to survive and save the female victim of the crash. Mikkelsen was stellar and gave a really emotional performance. The cinematography was beautiful, portraying the elements against him and his quest to bring the woman to safety. The music score was spot on as well. 4.5 stars indeed. Excellent survival movie that stands on its own.

      • It was so good but didn’t get much push or a wide release, which is a real shame. Mikkelsen is one to watch going forward. He has such real presence on the screen. Hopefully this movie will find a wider audience with streaming. A real gem.

      • Mikkelsen has long been a favorite of mine. You nail it, he has such an undeniable screen presence. He’s in an underseen Danish film called “Flame and Citron”. I can’t recommend it enough.

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