Mads Mikkelsen navigates a bleak landscape full of deadly threats. Critics are calling the film “one of the best movies about survival.” Directed by Brazilian filmmaker and musician Joe Penna, Arctic stars Mikkelsen (Hannibal) as Overgård, a man forced to make swift decisions upon a devastating plane crash.
Arctic premiered last May to a warm reception at the Cannes Film Festival and was subsequently acquired by the American distribution company Bleecker Street (Unsane, Logan Lucky). Arctic was filmed over 19 days in Iceland, and Mikkelsen has described the experience as the most difficult shoot of his career. The film marks the feature debut of Penna, who once had the largest YouTube following in Brazil thanks to his persona “MysteryGuitarMan.”
On YouTube, Bleecker Street released Arctic’s official trailer in which Mikkelsen’s Overgård creates a large S.O.S. sign in the snow. As the wind blows and the protagonist works away on a makeshift camp, fellow survivors rely on Overgård for physical and emotional help, but it becomes clear that time is of the essence. And so the ultimate journey begins for Mikkelsen’s character, as he sets forth on a quest that puts him face to face with polar bears while assessing rough terrain and unfathomable conditions. The Arctic trailer features numerous striking visuals, most notably when Overgård suddenly falls through the ice, along with the concluding image of the ragged character telling himself, “it’s OK, it’s OK.”
For a first time feature director, Penna’s visuals are remarkably polished and constructed, though he’s long been producing videos and advertisements. In 2016, Penna’s short film Turning Point screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, and his stop-motion short Guitar: Impossible was once displayed at the Guggenheim museum. At Cannes, Arctic earned a nomination for the Golden Camera award, or Caméra d’Or – an honor for a movie “whose qualities emphasize the need to encourage the director to undertake a second film.” As for Mikkelsen, Arctic marks his follow-up film after Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), in which he portrays Galen Orso, a scientist and the father of Jyn (Felicity Jones). Prior to that, Mikkelsen appeared as Kaecilius in Marvel’s Doctor Strange, for which he won the Danish Zulu Award for Best Actor.
While the Arctic trailer tells a familiar story, as seen in movies such as Alive (1993) and The Grey (2011), Penna’s visual nuance and Mikkelsen’s performative restraint suggest the film will be one of the more memorable survival stories depicted on screen.