Man Versus Nature;
Hope In The Face Of Peril;
You’re Never Alone.
We are two months into 2019 and Mads Mikkelsen already has two films out with one word, frigid titles. Between this and Polar, he has started off the year pretty damn impressively, although this time around he gets to flex more of his acting chops as he goes up against the forces of nature as opposed to a gang of hitmen.
As far as survival tales like this are concerned, there are certain perils and dangers you will probably see coming, although their timing may take you by surprise. But even when it falls into predictability, it never lacks the thrills and tension you expect from this sort of picture. The sense of danger is very real, and even while barely uttering a word, you are utterly drawn to the journey of Overgard, even if how his plane crashed and where exactly he might be are never expressed. Truthfully, those details don’t matter, and it speaks to what is truly important when fighting for survival: the sheer basic needs. If we wonder more about Overgard, it’s only to satisfy our own curiosity, never to address something the story inherently lacks.
As if being alone in the arctic isn’t difficult enough, a botched rescue job early in the film winds up pairing him with a severely injured woman that he now has to carry. The stakes are immediately raised, as he finds a wealth of value in the life of another, even if he does not know her. It speaks to, perhaps, a lack of true survival instinct (after all, in this scenario she is literally dragging him down), but to a vast ocean of heart and humanity. Overgard has been alone for at least some time (enough to set up some fishing rigs and mark a month or so’s worth of attempts to broadcast his position onto a makeshift map), so therefore he has faced the thought of dying alone. Saving this woman may kill them both, but if that happens, at least they will be together in their final moments. It is a powerful thread that runs the course of the film and pays emotional dividends on more than one occasion.
This is a very impressive debut film from Joe Penna and his writing partner Ryan Morrison. The story is told visually and with ferocious sound design, with the harsh landscapes and brutal winds that will make you want to put your coat back on, even inside the warm safety of the theater. Morrison also edits the movie, and does so seamlessly as we follow these two on their arduous, impossible trek. The cinematography from Tómas Örn Tómasson is stunning at times, as you marvel at the the contrast between bright blue sky and dismal, endless snow-capped peaks, between the confines of Overgard’s crashed plane residence and open, endless wonder of the natural world that seems so focused on killing him.
This will likely not find much of an audience in the theater, which is too bad because the combination of beautiful shots and harsh, intense sounds are made for that experience. It will not be for everyone, with so little in the way of dialogue, but is a very solid film that deserves to be seen.