Survival movies, especially the sole-actor-in-the-wilderness variety, live or die on charisma. If you’re Tom Hanks in ‘Cast Away’ and you’ve got a handy volleyball to gab with, things are going to be fine (for the audience). But the closer you approach stoic Robert Redford territory in the ocean-stranded ‘All Is Lost’, the more a film will require an innate, non-verbal appeal. Arctic pushes this theory to the limit: Mads Mikkelsen, best known for TV’s ‘Hannibal’, says virtually nothing during the entirety of the running time. But as a downed pilot whom we meet roughly two months into his snowy ordeal, Mikkelsen is endlessly compelling, rigging up an elaborate ice-fishing system and tending to his SOS sign with a methodical sense of purpose. There’s no panic, just calm proficiency.
Brazilian director Joe Penna, a former viral YouTube star, seems to relish the chance to stretch out and slow down, training the focus of his almost John Carpenter-esque feature debut (shot in gorgeous Icelandic locations) on small acts of visual process. His screenplay, co-written with Ryan Morrison, desperately needs some complications, and while it’s dangerous to spoil anything so simply conceived, suffice it to say that our hero gains a companion in immediate need of care – as well as an antagonist. Without the usual hyperactive editing or overzealous scoring, ‘Arctic’ requires a zen mindset to get the most out of it, but those who can muster one will be invigorated by this slice of craft-filled slow cinema.