The Last Winter

Director: Larry Fessenden

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The Last WinterThe Arctic National Refuge has finally been opened for exploitation by the oil industry. Evil against Nature is about to be punished!

For The Last Winter (2006), the acting is fairly decent, we get to know the characters pretty well before the weird stuff begins.

But Ron Perlman is such an expansive actor he comes off as the Arctic Scout Camp Master leading all the children through the movie-set for John Carpenter's version of The Thing (1982). He seems to think he's still Hell Boy & it's his job to make everyone else on screen appear small & uninteresting. Not a team player of an actor.

His character of Ed Pollack doesn't give a rat's ass about ecologicial bullshit. He just wants to get his equipment in there & start digging. As he represents exclusively oil company interests he's the defacto bad guy.

The Last WinterJames Hoffman (James LeGros) represents the needs of the wilderness. He observes that global warming is causing the permafrost to thaw.

The whole region could be an eco disaster with or without the oil company barrelling through churning up the softening soil. And who knows what life forms or micro-organisms have been dormant in the ice for thousands of years.

Maxwell "House" McKinder (Zach Gilford) is a member of Ed's extended family, probably not really qualified for the job he scored through nepotism.

He is helping record environmental changes at an isolated old test well. Maxwell mysteriously vanishes on the icy tundra, but soon turns up in a bewildered state.

Before long, it's clear he's changing, mentally & perhaps physically. In terror he insists, "It's coming out of the ground. Ghosts!" Completely out of his mind, he heads out across the snow into nowhere, stark naked.

The Last WinterDawn (Joanne Shenandoah), the Inuit cook, is also convinced "it" is coming. She puts name to it: Shinoo. Also called the Wendigo.

Rather prettily written, with the "the last winter" being symbolic of the end of Arctic weather, the film sustains interest even through the talky parts. Organic material frozen thousands of years is coming back to life. Though it's midwinter, plants are springing from the snow.

But for all the script's strong points, it doesn't bare up to too much scrutiny. For instance, this is the Arctic, yet there are regular days & nights same as in the lower latitudes.

Strange local phenomena arise as omens of a great scourge to come. All the base's equipment is on the fritz, & what doesn't break down mysteriously is eventually ruined by their resident mechanic Motor (Kevin Corrigan) who has gone insane.

We never really know if the supernatural is in play, or if gasses seeping from the thawing ground are effecting everyone's judgement. What's certain is people are losing their minds & dying. And by the time they decide to get the hell out of there, it's too late, even the plane that comes for them is affected, & provides the film's big, expensively staged catastrophe sequence.

The Last WinterHere in the far north is a place where Nature has a fighting chance against humanity's assaults, like a single entity fighting off a virus that is mankind.

Hoffman & Pollock have to cross the waste afoot looking for Fort Crow, an Inuit village, their only hope of survival. It's a danger-frought journey. And if all the horrors to date seemed possibly to have scientific explanation, on this bleak journey, all things Natural seem to have been redefined.

Meanwhile back at the camp, the madness has reached its apex. Dawn murders Elliot (Jamie Harrold) by humping his face, then Hoffman's girlfriend Abby (Connie Britton) kills Dawn. Lee (Pato Hoffmann) ran off barefoot into the waste & now Abby is alone with a ferocious black crow.

Pollock & Hoffman's journey of mutual disdain is at first Jack Londonesque, until it goes genuinely bizarre & the Wendigo shows up in what is clearly "just" an hallucination, but such a doozy.

You can rationalize just about everything, but to chalk it up to catastrophic bad luck defies coincidence. As a genre it falls in that area between the real the unreal called Magic Realism.

The final hallucinatory journey into the maw of the Wendigo is too obviously an animated cartoon, & even so, terribly thrilling.

In all, an imperfect film, but intriguing & rewarding. A lot slicker than the director's earlier, more roughly hewn Wendigo (2001). By its familiarity The Last Winter speeds along as easier viewing. Yet the earlier film is more demanding of the viewer, & is a greater work of art.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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