September 10, 2008

The Last Winter: Supernatural horror, and topical, too.


Reviewer: Erin Donovan
Rating (out of 5): ****

With rueful pleas for corporate regulation, doomsday global warming scenarios, references to Alaskan corruption and even an off the cuff remark about how fuel efficiency can be improved by adjusting tire pressure, The Last Winter is a supernatural horror film that provides us yet another lens to examine our national political conscious. Pitting blue state against red state in the form of male sexual jealousy it's to writer/director Larry Fessenden's great credit that he seems largely indifferent to humanity's unity or survival. Or, at the very least, takes great pleasure in ripping it to shreds (as any good horror director would).

The film opens with a jubilant internal corporate video (voiced by Patricia Clarkson) championing the success of opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling as a monumental human achievement. An only modestly exaggerated wink that none of this would be possible without a troubling intertwining of corporate greed and governmental corruption.

At one of these drilling outposts tensions grow between the riggers who are rushing to set up new sites and the government's environmental oversight crew. A recent bout of erratic temperature changes makes the ground ice too unstable to give clearance to more drilling the two groups who must wile away the long hours in a small dormitory.

But the melting ice is having other effects -- releasing demon beasts that drive people into either a homicidal frenzy or cause them to give up and sacrifice themselves to the unforgiving arctic elements.

The independent film offers up a stellar cast: Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Kevin Corrigan (Pineapple Express, Slums of Beverly Hills), Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) as well as a handful of newcomers who blend in seamlessly. But the surprise here lies in the often overlooked James LeGros (My New Gun, Drugstore Cowboy). We delight in watching Perlman's macho bluster (and eventual total takedown) but it's LeGros's sense of weary duty (and primal fear) that provides the conscience of the film.

As with Fessenden's previous effort Wendigo, the film spends a great deal of time establishing its characters and the alliances and animosities they develop in total isolation. Subsequently, when the blood begins to hit the fan at the 45-minute mark, it has a gruesome level of intensity that teeters on unbearable.

Shot on location in Iceland with a shoestring budget, The Last Winter is a wonderful reminder of how much a resourceful, imaginative filmmaker (with an impeccable cast) can imbue the starkest of landscapes and the simplest interactions with enthralling cinematic dimension.

DVD extras include directory commentary, an hour-long making of featurette, deleted scenes and a video interview with Fessenden.

See also: The Happening, Alien, The Thing, Sunshine, Dog Soldiers, Lessons of Darkness, The Descent, Right At Your Door.

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Posted by cphillips at September 10, 2008 1:42 PM