Low-budget horror auteur Larry Fessenden (Habit, Wendigo) has a truly clever set-up for his latest shiverfest. Climate change is making life difficult for a group of blue-collar types (think Alien and especially The Thing) working to get oil out of the Alaskan wilderness by melting the ice roads and thawing the frozen tundra, making both unsafe for trucks. As the film progresses, the crew is slowly driven insane, either by “sour gas” being released out of the softening ground, or by some kind of vengeful earth-spirit that’s been stirred up by exploitation of the area’s natural resources. It’s a global-warming horror movie.
The low-key production gets a boost from Fessenden’s skill working with his lead actors. The typically expert Ron Perlman plays Ed Pollack, a gruff leader who’s impatient with the tree-hugging outsider (James LeGros) who’s on site to monitor the project’s environmental impact (and, not incidentally, to sleep with Pollack’s former girlfriend); the story really comes alive after disaster strikes the compound and those two head out on their own to try to summon help. The balance of the picture is suffused with an impressive chilliness, and a few genuinely disturbing images, but the narrative is largely (perhaps deliberately) undeveloped, with the result that much of the violent action feels random and obligatory.
The decision to shoot in Iceland helps give this warm winter a look and feel all its own, but Fessenden’s ambition ultimately butts heads with his budget — especially when he resorts to CG work in the final reels. The Last Winter is an intriguing film, and one that’s easy to admire for its use of old-school character development and a small-scale sense of dread, but it never feels fully realized. It’s the rare case where I might actually look forward to a more generously budgeted remake. (Upgraded a notch for staying power.) B-
Directed and Edited by Larry Fessenden
Written by Robert Leaver and Fessenden
Cinematography by G. Magni Águstsson
Starring Ron Perlman, James LeGros, Connie Britton, and Kevin Corrigan
Screened 08/30/07 at Magno Review 1, New York, NY