A Film a Week - Arctic

Well, I am pretty sure that an ex-YouTube videographer and short filmmaker Joe Penna had his very good reasons for Arctic to be his first feature, but I am struggling to find any reason for audience to see it. Maybe, just maybe it can be found in a challenge put before Mads Mikkelsen as an actor: Can he hold the grip over out attention for 90 plus minutes just by being in frame, doing the typical (but still pretty realistic) survival stuff and barely speaking, either to himself or his companion he would find further down the road? The answer would be: "Yes, he can.", followed by a counter-question: "But why?"

Arctic is a disaster movie, but narrowly escaping the label "a disaster of a movie". It falls along the lines of the "new school" of the genre, the one that promotes minimalism and realism as opposed to noise, spectacle and the inflation of action like we witnessed during the 90's. Comparisons might be drawn to titles like Danny Boyle's 127 Hours and J.C. Chandor's All Is Lost, which is hardly a good thing having in mind that both films are considerably better than Penna's execution-wise and that they actually brought something new to the genre when they appeared. Arctic does too little too late to reform the genre, but for our own consolation, at least we do not have to stand more hurricanes, tsunamis, volcano eruptions or asteroid hits.

Penna and his co-writer Ryan Morrison actually have a few interesting ideas. Locating the story in the Arctic wasteland where the lack of events (like appearance of rescue planes, hunting and clear water opportunities) is more sure to kill the protagonist if he has survived the initial disaster was a smart move. The same goes for the decision not to show the event, the plane crash landing, itself, although we will later see a helicopter crashing down. In that manner, the story is refreshingly devoid of the context and we meet our guy named Overgard when he has already accepted his faith (in a way) and adapted to a number of new routines like fishing for food, looking for signal on his distress radio and mapping the area.

The crash of a passing helicopter rises the stakes by coming with its pros and cons: Overgard can use some of the equipment, but he also has to take care of another victim, a young woman that slips in and out of consciousness played by Icelandic actress Maria Thelma Smáradóttir. That second crash and the better map he has found propels him to trade his safe, Robinson Crusoe (with an icy twist)-like existence for the uncertainty of finding a more visible place to summon help. The other person proves to be more of a ballast than a partner, though some sense of loyalty is forged on the way, but more than that a simple dramaturgical device to enable our guy to talk to somebody, even though that person hardly (if at all) gives any response.

The trouble with Arctic and that kind of movies in general is that all the good narrative ideas are being used early on, leaving us to the expected dramaturgical clichés and formulae in the second half. The other problem ensues with the lack of dialogue, which opens a lot of empty space in the sound scheme. Penna and the producers made a mistake opting for generic and often too loud soundtrack instead of insisting on the scariness of the natural sound like howling wind and ice and snow moving. Mikkelsen himself is good enough in his role to elevate the film from the level of strange curiosity to average (Icelandic landscape also helps a bit), but not more than that. He is just too limited by sketchy writing of both his character and the situations that happen to him.

No comments:

Post a Comment