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In the Arctic region of Northern Alaska, an oil company's advance team struggles to establish a drilling base that will forever alter the pristine land. After one team member is found dead, a disorientation slowly claims the sanity of the others as each of them succumbs to a mysterious fear.
The Last Winter, the latest film from Larry Fessenden, is a release that I've been keeping my eye on for a while but have been putting off actually watching. You see, I wasn't a huge fan of Fessenden's last film (Wendigo); I thought that there were some neat moments throughout the film and I saw a lot of potential in the storyline, but the overall product just didn't do much for me. So, when The Last Winter came out and received glowing reviews from some respectable sites and also drew more than a couple of comparisons to Wendigo, I was torn on whether or not I really wanted to give it a shot. On the one hand, these sites were telling me that the movie was excellent and deserved every bit of praise that it received, but on the other hand, they were also saying that it was a lot like a film that I didn't particularly enjoy. I finally got around to watching it tonight, and the first thing to pop into my head when the credits started to roll was "why in the hell did I wait so long?"
Review by Chad
Added: May 16, 2008
The storyline is fairly intricate and requires the viewer to pay attention to put together the pieces of the puzzle (the ambiguous ending only adds to this), and as such, it's sort of hard to describe without venturing deep into spoiler territory. The best way to describe it would be to say that it's sort of like a mixture of Wendigo, The Thing, and An Inconvenient Truth. I realize that this is a bizarre mixture of ideas and genres, but it actually works in this film.
It all begins innocently enough: an American company wants to help the country be self-sufficient in regards to the energy crisis, so they've decided to head out to a remote section of Alaska and drill for oil. It seems that another company has already attempted to drill in this same spot in the past, but the results of that expedition have been kept top secret - this should have been a hint for all involved, but we wouldn't have a movie if they didn't try it for themselves. So, under the leadership of the gruff "take no bullshit" Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman), a small crew is sent to a modest station in the Alaskan wilderness, but they'll soon find themselves squaring off with environmentalist James Hoffman (James LeGros) who has been assigned to the team to ensure that everything is done in the most environmentally-safe way possible. Throw in a lady (Connie Britton) that both Ed and James have their eye on, and it should go without saying that the oil isn't the only combustible element in this neck of the woods.
I realize that at this point in the synopsis, the film isn't exactly sounding like a must-see release unless you're a fan of mushy drama flicks. However, this is only the introduction to the characters, and believe me when I say that things get interesting damned quick. This is where I'm finding it difficult to continue describing the film without spoiling some key moments, so let's just say that some freaky shit starts to happen, members of the team start to seemingly go insane, and just about everyone has hallucinations of some sort. Perhaps there are supernatural forces at play out here, or maybe it can all be attributed to delirium caused by "sour gas", a term used to describe the gases that escape from the ground when elements are exposed to the air for the first time in thousands of years due to the greenhouse effect. Whatever the cause, the film leaves us guessing up until the very end... and maybe even beyond that point.
The thing that singlehandedly won me over about this film was the way that the filmmakers left it up to us to decide what was really going on with these characters. There are scenes and certain events that will lead us to believe that yes, there is something supernatural going on up there, but then, something happens that completely nullifies what we've just seen. At this point, we're thinking that it has to be a case of insanity or mass hysteria, but right around that point, something happens that makes us question that assessment. This style of storytelling may not work with everyone in the audience, but personally, I love it when a filmmaker can give us a story that is solid on its own but at the same time allows us to come up with our conclusions.
It's also true that when it comes to the supernatural elements of the film, The Last Winter does share a lot in common with Wendigo. However, even if you share my opinion of that film, this is not a bad thing as Fessenden took the best pieces of that film and incorporated them into this one. Instead of assaulting us with over-the-top special effects and numerous horror clichés, we are instead presented with a very minimalist, subdued film that relies more on tension and the fear of the unknown. Yes, some of the pieces of this storyline will seem familiar to you if you've seen Wendigo, but thankfully, the moments that seem familiar are the moments that worked best in that film.
Now, this is not to say that there are no special effects whatsoever as there are a handful of scenes that show off some damned creepy... let's just say "things" to avoid spoilers. I can tell you right now that these "things" will be a hit or miss with you depending on what you're looking for from a horror film. Remember, I said that this film relied more on a minimalist way of doing things, but in my book, less is sometimes so much more. That is the case here, and while some of you will certainly disagree with me when you see the "things" that I'm referring to, I thought that these scenes worked out much better than they would have had this minimalist approach been avoided.
The Last Winter is a thinking man's horror, and as such, those of you looking for a simple gorefest or even a rehash of The Thing will more than likely walk away disappointed. This film will appeal more to those members of the audience who enjoy putting on their thinking caps and dissecting a movie, and since I happen to fit snugly into that demographic, I'm going to have to go with a strong rating here. 9.5/10 - yes, it's damned near a perfect film, and if it hadn't been for a few moments of subpar acting (a very few), I probably would have went with a perfect rating.
- added 05/16/2008, 10:23 AM
This looks awesome. I am definitely renting this
when I can.
- added 05/16/2008, 11:20 AM
Love, love, loved it. I saw this a few months ago
right before it hit theatres and didn't want to
review it until it went into release, and then
forgot to review it and now Chad beat me to the
punch. Larry Fessenden, as far as I am concerned,
is one of the finest horror directors working
today, second only to Neil Marshall maybe. He is
one of the new breed of horror filmmakers and his
work is getting better and better. "The Last
Winter" is frightening...that is the best
word to use I suppose...just frightening. The
best horror film I have seen since "The
Descent", hands down. 10/10.
- added 05/21/2008, 03:00 AM
Just finished watching this a few hours ago... and
then revisited it with the Director's commentary
during a few scenes to hear his take on a few
choice moments in the film...
Definitely a step up from his earlier effort...
and proof positive that great Directors tend to
obsessively revisit certain themes within their
work until they either conquer the idea or burn it
from their consciousness through repeated
execution. Mr. Fessenden is going to be a film
maker to watch in the years to come.
The script is crisp and minimal... and aside
from a few predictable turns and heavy-handed
sequences, it is pitch perfect in it's pacing and
I really appreciated how
the story allowed for such open interpretation and
ambiguity. Some of the imagery will stay with you
for a long time afterwards...
fan of the whole new didactic "save the
Earth" sub-genre... but this compelling drama
kept me riveted until the last frame faded to
8.5 out of 10... maybe even 9
out of 10 if you bother to listen to the
commentary alongside the film afterwards... VERY
insightful and fascinating!
I'll be sure to
own this one...
- added 05/21/2008, 11:02 AM
Even in "Wendigo", Fessenden seems
fascinated with exploring mans rape of nature,
from various perspectives. As far as I am
concerned, he and Neil Marshall are the finest
horror directors working in the business right
- added 05/27/2008, 02:01 PM
I loved this movie up until the last couple of
minutes. Fantastic acting on all accounts, and you
could tell Fessenden had a good sense of how he
wanted the movie to turn out. I thought for sure
I'd be giving this a perfect, then Rudolph's ghost
showed up, and I yelled at my TV. So aside from
that little fumble, this was a perfect film.
- added 07/03/2008, 02:03 PM
Honestly, I still don't get the ending, and
probably that's what Fessenden wanted.
We need to get a good discussion going on here
about this movie.
- added 08/25/2009, 01:51 PM
Ha ha, I'm going to agree with Tristan on this
one. The movie had some great acting and
directing in it, but when the spirit came out it
looked like a moose on steroids.