A man stranded in the Arctic is finally about to receive his long awaited rescue. However, after a tragic accident, his opportunity is lost and he must then decide whether to remain in the relative safety of his camp or embark on a deadly trek through the unknown for potential salvation.
Man vs Frozen Wilderness has been done before of course. Leonardo di Caprio tries to survive the South Dakotan winter, and bears, in The Revenant; Liam Neeson fights the Alaskan cold, and wolves, in The Grey; we don’t exactly know where Mads Mikkelsen is, but he is trying to survive the cold, and polar bears, somewhere in the Arctic circle.
His plane has crashed and he, H. Overgård, is clearly a trained survivalist: he has set up camp the best he can, knows how to catch fish to have something to eat, has a strict routine to try and make radio contact, maps the area around him, and leaves markers and messages in case anyone might come across them. Life isn’t exactly comfortable of course; the cold is relentless, the food is minimal, and polar bears take a liking to his fish.
When, at last, one day a helicopter passes by, he manages to attract its attention; their landing attempt goes horribly wrong and it crashes, killing the pilot and nearly doing the same to the passenger. On the up side, Overgård now has some additional provisions and tools which he salvages from the helicopter, as well as a patient to look after in this arctic wilderness. She (played by Icelandic actress Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) seems to very slowly start to recover until the medical kit is depleted and her wounds start to fester. Overgård decides he cannot stay where he is and plots a multi-day route to a seasonal station which he found to exist on a map in the helicopter. This journey may kill them both, but does he really have a choice?
This movie is all about Mikkelsen, and he carries it very well. There is no dialogue as there is no-one to talk back to Overgård, so we are left with some sparse talk, and we get no backstory whatsoever, we’re simply dropped in the middle of the Arctic and join Overgårds daily routine. Mikkelsen manages to convey to the audience what his character is; unlike many other wilderness stories, he is not helpless making one mistake after another. Rather the opposite – he knows exactly what he is doing and can fend for himself quite well despite being in such a harsh environment. It’s not because of any obvious mistakes that he gets deeper and deeper into trouble; nature and fate both just seem pitted against him.
The movie doesn’t quite keep up the same level of interest all the way through to the end, but Mikkelsen is still a hell of a lot more interesting to watch than Di Caprio was in The Revenant in my humble opinion.
We never find out what the ‘H’ stands for in H. Overgård, but a small easter egg may be that the photo on Overgård’s ID is the same one used in Mikkelsen’s tv-series Hannibal; that may not bode well for the woman he is lugging around as a frozen popsicle on his journey…