Arctic Void (2022)

Rating: C

Dir: Darren Mann
Star: Michael Weaver, Tim Griffin, Justin Huen, Rune Temte

A couple of days ago, I reviewed Hatching, a movie which struggled out of the gates, but came on strong in the second half. This is the complete opposite. The first thirty minutes are amazingly good, setting up a deeply intriguing mystery, unlike anything I’d ever seen. Then, it just stops. Seriously, the plot development which had been the film’s best element, simply ceases, in favour of endless wandering about. Rarely have I seen a film go off the rails in such a decisive fashion. I understand in this kind of conspiratorial scenario, it’s often harder to resolve things than generate paranoia. The apparently near-total lack of effort put in here though, is almost impressive. 

It starts with travel program presenter Ray (Weaver) and producer Alan (Griffin) arriving in Svalbard, one of the most northerly permanent settlements in the world. They meet up with cameraman Sean (Huen), a late replacement after the original had visa problems, and they set sail on a boat, with other tourists and a couple of scientists. Things seems kinda off from the beginning. The local wildlife behave strangely, and Sean seems to have a hidden agenda of some kind. This is all put to one side when everyone else, both crew and passengers, suddenly vanish completely, leaving just the three filmmakers aboard. Spotting a town on the coast, they head for it in the ship’s lifeboat, only to find the settlement equally devoid of inhabitants. With Alan’s health deteriorating fast, time to find answers is running out.

So far, so pretty awesome, to be honest. There’s a great sense of creepiness evoked before the “rapture” – not least, in the great use of a CGI walrus. That isn’t a phrase I expected to be writing today. The characters are efficiently and effectively drawn, pulling the viewer in, and their reactions to the WTF events that unfold seem generally natural. The backdrop of the far North is beautiful and well-photographed, while the abandoned Russian mining town of Pyramiden provides a great, eerie location for the empty town. The problem is simply that the story has no clue at all about what to do with the trio, once they arrive there.

There is only so much wandering around you can do, and once that’s exhausted – and, boy, is it exhausted – the film grinds to a complete halt. There is an explanation for events provided, which the tag-line on the poster more than hints about. I’m just well short of confident it makes sense: for example, why would it make everyone’s clothes disappear as well? Then, a random sniper and a ringing telephone are all the film can provide in terms of wrapping things up. The sense of disappointment I felt when the end credits rolled, was palpable, and significantly increased by how well the makers had done in the first half. A B+ grade was certainly within reach, had they managed to stick the landing. Instead, it suffers from a terrible case of the Simone Biles twisties.