Overgård is alone. Surrounded by thousands of miles of snow and ice in the Arctic, a winter wonderland so far north that even Starbucks passed on opening an office.

We know our Arctic Adam’s name is Overgård because it’s on his Patagonia snow jacket. This is Denmark’s Mads Mikkelsen, whom you may remember from television’s Hannibal Lecter or the stoic priest in Willem Dafoe’s “At Eternity’s Gate.”

Here in director-artist-musician Joe Penna’s stunning debut film, Mikkelsen validates his cinema currency once more, with interest.

Mikkelsen is a complete Overgård, a downed bush pilot with eyes like those of someone the Russians have sent to kill you. But here he is a simple man, a man we will learn is of tender heart and searching soul, a pilgrim who fell from the sky and is embracing survival.

Overgard is alone but for a polar bear wondering about; we get a shot of the animal in the distance in a scene reminiscent of that meeting between Redford’s Jeremiah Johnson and a lone Crow Indian brave.

Like Johnson and the Crow, Overgård and the polar bear that crouches some 500 feet away watch each other warily.

Overgård wisely sees the bear as his opponent. The bear sees Overgård as breakfast. This moment will pass, and there will be another hour and ten minutes before they meet again, in a scene that will allow you your only time to close your eyes.

There are a lot of clues scattered around the wreckage he calls home that tell us he has been here for some time and is preparing for longer.

Overgård has an ice locker full of fish from which he plucks one at a time for nightly dinner. We watch as he sits in his broken plane, slicing the creature up into small pieces like a delicacy from a Beverly Hills sushi bar.

What we see is all we know about Overgård, because there are no flashbacks of his base life, his family or friends looking for him. Our hero is a survivalist, possessed of great skills.

Having scratched out a huge S.O.S. in the craggy landscape, he sits in the snow each evening winding his battery operated finder, hoping someone, other than the  polar bear, will hear his message.

Then one day in the middle of a sudden storm, a rescue helicopter arrives, but caught in a violent vortex, it crashes.

The pilot is dead, but the copilot (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) is alive yet badly wounded and in a semi coma.

Overgård takes her back to his quarters and hopes to keep her alive. She has a huge gash in her abdomen that he seals by using a desk stapler. I felt each metallic clip. She does not.

This will not be an Adam and Eve romance. Maria only briefly floats in and out of her merciful coma, and when she does, she never speaks.

All Overgård knows of her is identification papers and a photo of her with husband and baby, which he presses gently into her hand.

And so our shared adventure begins. Overgård’s options are limited. He can no longer wait there for help, and his partner’s wound looks increasingly worse.

He has to make a move, even if it’s the wrong one. He packs up his gear and hers, some medical gear and a fueled cooking plate, packs her onto his makeshift sled and starts off cross country in hopes that somewhere out there, there is an outpost, a wandering native, anything.

As you might expect, this journey will not be a Disney ride. It will be fraught with unimaginable horrors. Penna’s skill as a storyteller in this his first movie is pure gold.

You will give up hope a number of times, even when Overgård does not.

I muttered out loud, “Oh, come on, God, give this poor bastard a break,” several times.

I promise you this: The last 10 minutes, in fact the last 10 seconds, will leave you shivering.

And that polar bear? Try to look away.


J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and film actor.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.