THE LAST WINTERNR
With The Last Winter, director Larry Fessenden cleverly devises another thriller cauldron in which to stir up mysterious goings-on and endangered protagonists. Unfortunately, he also drops some clichéd characters into the stew. But Fessenden’s latest is more evidence that the filmmaker knows plenty about craft and has a sense of style. The film deserves attention, not just because of its important global warming message but as a genre piece done a little more intelligently.
Substituting the iconic embattled house or cave, dorm, log cabin or motel with an isolated oil company outpost in Alaska (Iceland is a nice stand-in), Fessenden brings together a team working for fictional American oil giant North Industries. Parked on the ice slab are the proverbial unsuspecting suspects. There’s pushy, gung-ho boss Pollack (Rob Perlman), who kisses corporate butt while kicking those of underlings. Joining global warming to heat up the cold Alaskan climes is team hottie Abby (Connie Britton), who was once Pollack’s girlfriend. She’s taken up with hero archetype Hoffman (James LeGros), the requisite goody-goody, a scientist and outside observer concerned about the corporation’s plans and the changing atmosphere. As Hoffman himself puts it, he’s up north for “the American people,” not for North Industries.
Also on board is requisite nerd Taylor (Jamie Harrold), slacker Motor (Kevin Corrigan), and Dawn and Lee (Joanne Shenandoah and Pato Hoffmann), a couple of natives who give a supernatural, mythical whiff to the proceedings.
Hewing to formula, things start looking weird. What, for instance, is lurking under that valve pipe? What about those creepy crows? And, as Hoffman asks, why is the permafrost melting? A succession of mysterious occurrences unfold as various team members like Maxwell (Zach Gilford) venture beyond the station to do their work, which, in the case of The Last Winter, involves affronting Mother Nature by exploiting hidden Alaskan oil reserves. Mother’s a mean mamma: Those who wander beyond the station return somehow afflicted. As Maxwell puts it, “There’s like a force out there!”
Matters escalate when a huge accident leaves the crew vulnerable and trapped at the station without any radio contact. Pollack and Hoffman are forced to descend into the vast, bleak, dark white to find help. They may not get salvation but we get the message—don’t mess with Mother Nature. We also get an explosive ending.
Fessenden again does genre with a little lagniappe—here it’s horror with a frozen topping and “green” sauce. An opening voiceover mimicking a North Industries promo sounds like the voice of Patricia Clarkson, again signaling that as horror, The Last Winter is of a higher pedigree.