Feb 26, 2019

It's cold and scary but about as good a survival film as you will ever see.


Grade: A-

Director: Joe Penna

Screenplay: Penna, Ryan Morrison

Cast: Mads Mikkelson (Doctor Strange), Maria Thelma Smaradottir (Fangar)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hr 36 min

By: John DeSando

It’s doubtful you’ll see a more engaging or harrowing survival film than Joe Penna’s Arctic. Along with Tómas Örn Tómasson’s expansive and confining cinematography, Penna takes us to the downed Overgard (Mads Mikkelson), alone in the Arctic but surviving.

Although he has positioned himself in the wreck with enough fish and protection to survive, he must decide what to do with a rescuer (Maria Thelma Smaradottir), who went down in a helicopter. That he must take her for help is no surprise; that he does with such selflessness and strength in the joy of the film.

She now shares his fate although she’s completely without strength. What ensues is about as realistic as you could have although Overgard is just a bit more resourceful than most other mortals would be.

Regardless, the audience is treated to a character’s painful circumstances and decisions mixed with a caring that goes beyond expectations. As bleak as the future seems to be, the landscape is bleaker, in reality the snow-swept region of Iceland.

The brilliance of this survival epic is the display of fear and humanity set against a desperate situation. Sometimes it feels like the personal torture of 127 hours and the minimal dialogue of All is Lost with a touch of Liam Neeson’s courage in Cold Pursuit.

Ignore the pat ending, for Arctic will put you inside the cabin of the wreck and outside where snow, rock, and an occasional hungry bear will make you happy to be in any traffic jam at rush hour rather than surviving in the arctic.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at