The Arctic Circle, especially Antarctica, where there haven’t been any confirmed cases of the coronavirus, is looking pretty comfy right now. A land of isolation, calm and nature, it is a place without many people: those who do brave it to these remote regions must learn to survive with few other companions or simply just all on their own.
As a result, Arctic tales are often tales of survival, braving perilous conditions in order to find some kind of personal satisfaction. They can also be tales of paranoia and disintegration brought upon by an unforgiving landscape. To celebrate the region in all of its forms, we have compiled a list of five essential Arctic-based tales.
Spanning from both thrillers to Christmas films, body horror to auteur works, we have created a list of five essential films that take place beyond the rim of conventional civilisation. To learn more please read the list we have written for you below. Think that we missed a particularly chilling Arctic tale? Please let us know in the comment section below!
How I Ended This Summer
You can’t discuss the Arctic circle without mentioning Russia. Huge swathes of the world’s biggest country is in the region. The nation also lays claim to 2 million citizens in the area, just over half the entire population of the region, making it the world’s biggest Arctic country. How I Ended This Summer is one of the best Russian films about Arctic life, taking place on a remote Soviet-era weather station.
Only two men are stationed there, young intern Pasha (Grigoriy Dobrygin) and the older Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis). But when Pasha gets a special message through the radio, he unwisely decides to keep it secret, laying bare a difficult rift between the two men. The result is an allegory of modern Russia as told through the generations, a tale of wintry strife that is as assuredly handled as it is deeply wrought.
Set more in the Siberia of the imagination than the Siberia of reality, Abel Ferrara’s Willem Dafoe-starring masterpiece is a unique meditation on what makes up a human soul. It starts with Dafoe’s character owning a remote lodge somewhere in the darkest, deepest depths of Eastern Russia, where he has to take huskies in order to travel anywhere. From there the film takes a variety of bizarre twists and turns, exploring his memories and projections, as well as commenting on the Russian gulag and other such Siberian monstrosities.
This is the kind of film where you really have to go with the flow to really enjoy it, held together by the lived-in performance of Dafoe, who has proven a great partner alongside Abel Ferrara in their many collaborations. Intentionally mind-boggling, it offers rewards in spades for those willing to give into its peculiar rhythms.
The Thing (1982)
I know you might be thinking of going there to get away from the coronavirus, but just because you are in Antarctica doesn’t mean you are entirely safe. This is especially true when it comes to snow beasts and mysterious creatures frozen in the snow. Based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr., the idea of a shapeshifting alien that can take the form of people it kills has been adapted three times in The Thing From Another World (1951), The Thing (1982) and The Thing (2011).
The most iconic iteration of The Thing is the 1982 John Carpenter version, which really hit the sweet-spot when it came to special effects – not as corny as the 50s version and not as dependent on CGI like the 2011 remake. Carpenter creates a truly eerie feeling here, using the vast-snow coloured landscape as a place to hide all manner of dark secrets. Aided by Kurt Russell in the central role, and it has grown to be one of the greatest horror movies of all time.
There is one part of the arctic which is unashamedly filled with magic and joy. Santa Claus, of course, is supposed to live in these parts, currently residing for tourist reasons in the lapland region of Finland. The Netflix animation Klaus acts as a kind of origin story for the kindly old man who delivers children gifts. It tells the story of a postman (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) who, being born into insane privilege, gets taught a lesson in hardship by his father who sends him to the remote island town of Smeerensburg.
Life in Smeerensburg is relentlessly hard, with our lazy protagonist finding it hard to deliver mail. Things change however when he comes across a mysterious toymaker. Once they get closer, they strike up a strange friendship, bringing toys to children and bringing this village to life. A genuinely soul-stirring tale features expertly rendered animation, Klaus is easily the brightest film on this list, reminding us of the importance of Christmas during dark and difficult times.
Easily Christopher Nolan’s most underrated movie, Insomnia does look and feel like his only real for-hire job. Nonetheless, this remake of the Norwegian film starring Robin Williams and Al Pacino is a fascinating twist on the dark thriller formula, as it takes place entirely in sunlight. Al Pacino stars as Los Angeles Police Detective Will Dormer sent in to deal with a murder of a seventeen-year-old in the town of Nightmute, Alaska.
As it is the peak of the summer, the entire area is bright all day long, leading to Dormer finding it hard to get any shuteye whatsoever. This, combined with the bleak landscape, makes him doubt his own eyes, especially when he believes that Walter Finch, played by Robin Williams in a characteristically against-type dramatic role, could be the potential killer. The result is a fascinating cat-and-mouse game that offers a solid update of the original film. While not essential Nolan when compared to The Dark Knight or Inception, it still sees how the director can take any material and make it work well.