Last Winter, The (DVD)
Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Ron Perlman, James LeGros, Connie Britton, Keving Corigan
Directed by Larry Fessenden
Distributed by Genius Products
Something strange is happening in the remote arctic plains of Alaska. It seems global warming is doing more than simply melting the glaciers and ice caps – something long frozen into the tundra is being liberated to mankind’s collective detriment. As such, this is a very timely horror film with its ominous metaphorical connection to global warming.
The underlying framework harkens back to The Thing, with its motley crew of oil company workers stationed out in the middle of wintry nowhere, small airplane access only. Their workstation is your standard functional ice station setup, a communal mess hall, an airplane and snowcat hanger and small quarters for the individual men and women working there. All is hunky dory at first as oil-man-in-charge Ed Pollack (Pearlman) arrives with fresh stocks of food, booze, and smokes. But one of his workers, James Hoffman (LeGros) has a hidden agenda – his environmental concerns have brought him here in the guise of an oil worker, when in fact he wants anything but further drilling or development.
Add in the fact that Hoffman’s character is banging Pollack’s on-site former flame and you have a relationship that isn’t exactly what you’d call amicable. Thankfully, Fessenden doesn’t pour on the romance or resort to the clichés of "love conquers all", this dynamic plays out with subtlety and convincing interpersonal tension.
The scary stuff in this story really creeps in gradually – those expecting a sudden horrific alien swarm or terrified flamethrower battles with a giant hulking insectoid beast will likely be disappointed. The terror impetus here is more a force than anything else. It does eventually rear its multiple heads later on in a visually impressive if not overly heart stopping way. But the real enemy is mankind – as the greedy push to suck the land dry gathers more steam, the eerie changes to the collective of psyche of the workers gets more pronounced, and this doesn’t appear to be a strictly localized phenomenon.
Fessenden does a good job of keeping the menace just out of our reach, the performances are great and the visual feel makes the very most out of the minimal aesthetic of the arctic plain. As greater obstacles face our foes, panic sets in effectively, more like how it would actually be than outright sudden hysteria. In a critical bad move by Pollack and Hoffman, they end up stranded miles from the nearest station or northern community, and as they notice the oil leaking from their snowmobiles you get a real sense of dread for their circumstances with only 3 hours of daylight in front them to travel on foot.
But ultimately, even though it’s a well crafted and very well acted film, the end result left me a little cold. Its ambiguity might ratchet up the fear centers in some viewer’s minds, but when it’s this straightforwardly and plausibly presented of a scare tale, I prefer to have things wrapped up in a crystal clear manner. And there are some absurd plausibility gaps – I don’t believe, for example, that you can plunge over your head into an arctic stream and dry yourself and your snowsuit off outside with no shelter and a small twig fire. That being said, on to the extras ...
In terms of supplemental material you'll find a feature length making-of that's broken down into eight parts and runs nearly two hours combined. The first six parts are comprised of mostly location scouting and production stuff, but parts seven and eight are killer. Here's where you will find the deleted scenes, of which there are twelve including an alternate ending, and an extremely entertaining interview with Fessenden himself.
If you’re Fessenden fan and can look past a few minor inconsistencies, then definitely check out The Last Winter. It delivers where it has to and packs a decent amount of punch.
3 1/2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
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