By Scott Knopf | January 26, 2011

Following two teens, Qalli (Patkotak) and Aivaaq (Irelan), as they respectively prepare for college and fatherhood, the film takes a suspenseful turn when a fight with a third boy leads to an accident which leads to a death.  Immediately, all future plans these boys had are now in jeopardy.  Things begin to crumble both around them and between them as Qalli’s father, a search and rescue officer, comes closer and closer to discovering the truth: that the boys tried to cover up their unfortunate accident and frame the young man’s death as a reckless self-imposed misfortune.

MacLean’s thriller is a straightforward genre work in the best ways possible.  Following classic plot conventions, the writer/director is able to keep the tension levels high while introducing or guiding audiences into a society often glanced over in Hollywood.  This isn’t The Edge.  It isn’t 30 Days of Night, either.  On the Ice centers itself in an Alaskan community that isn’t often represented cinematically.  The story isn’t about Americans (or vampires) against a snow-covered backdrop.  Rather, MacLean delivers an effective and informative tale about the people of Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in the United States.

There are a number of notable elements at work in the film.  Both Patkotak and Irelan give tremendous performances which give some heft to an otherwise conventional script.  The white-heavy cinematography surrounds the suspenseful plot in a gorgeous frame.  And the editing (and of course, the writing) keep the narrative moving at a brisk enough pace where the plot points come quickly enough while still giving ample amounts of time for character development, exposition, and proper setups for subsequent plot twists.  Altogether, MacLean’s first narrative feature is a successful “weknowwhodunit” with enough differences from comparable films to stay interesting and compelling.

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