The Last Winter
2007, NR, 101 min. Directed by Larry Fessenden. Starring James LeGros, Ron Perlman, Connie Britton, Kevin Corrigan, Zach Gilford, Jamie Harrold.
It's difficult to tell whether The Last Winter is Dick Cheney's wet dream or Al Gore's nightmare, but either way you thaw it, director Fessenden has helmed the first truly disturbing narrative feature on the unknowable consequences of global warming. Fessenden has directed a pair of quasi-cult creep outings before – the vampire-as-junkie Habit and the eerie, Native American-influenced Wendigo – and he's one of the few genre directors around who intuitively understands that developing and sustaining an atmosphere of disquieting dread results in a far more affecting film than cutting straight to the horror. Unfortunately, he also tends to chuck all that atmosphere out the window as his films gain third-act momentum. Both Wendigo and The Last Winter are marred by too-literal final sequences that go for the throat but seem ham-fisted when compared to what came before. Set in the Arctic National Wildlife refuge, where an exploratory oil-drilling outfit is being overseen by Perlman's hardcore roughneck Ed and his onetime lover Abby (Britton), The Last Winter takes its time getting to know both the desolate, icy location and the half-dozen members of the outpost who may or may not be going stir-crazy. Certainly something bizarre is going on, as company "greenie" James (LeGros) details in his logbook the rapidly thawing permafrost, the sudden appearance of ominous black crows, and an indefinable sense that things are going haywire, environmentally speaking, at an exponential rate. As James notes, the current great ice melt-off is exposing levels of terrain that haven't seen sunlight in 10,000 years. There could be anything down there, dormant, hungry, or both. The Last Winter shares much of its dire mood with John Carpenter's masterful exercise in male paranoid machismo The Thing and also borrows a page or two from H.P. Lovecraft's novella At the Mountains of Madness, but in the end Fessenden's film is its own chilly beast. It's less about the hubris of eviscerating the wilderness in search of unsustainable fossil fuels than it is a dreamlike excursion into hell on a cold day. Cinematographer G. Magni Agustsson's vast panoramas of frozen nothingness possess an eerie beauty comparable only to those grainy images beamed back from the surface of the moon 40 years ago. But it's not alien invaders The Last Winter is afraid of. It's us, and what we've done and may yet do. After all, pale horses are hard to discern in all that awful whiteness.