The Last Winter

I saw an ad for The Last Winter in a magazine and, not having heard anything prior to that or even gaining any relevant information about the movie from the ad, was immediately interested and knew I had to see it, regardless of what kind of reviews it had. The reason being it starred Ron Perlman and the ad was gorgeous. If the movie was to look anything like the ad, I would love it on that basis alone.

Turns out, The Last Winter is a horror movie of sorts. Kind of like a cross breed of John Carpenter’s The Thing and Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow. If that sounds like a weird combo, you’re right. Here’s a quick sum up of the storyline. An oil company is attempting to dig for oil in Alaska and sends an environmentalist (a scruffy James LeGros, the same guy who played McBeth in the fantastic and relatively unknown Scotland, PA) to keep on eye on the crew (led by Perlman). They’re unable to bring in the heavy machinery necessary for oil drilling because the temperatures are too high and the permafrost is melting, making the ground too soft. And that’s when strange things start happening.

The Last Winter isn’t like The Thing where you actually see the monster but rather takes a more psychological approach. Being out in the middle of the tundra for weeks on end tends to take it’s toll on people, and eventually they can go a little crazy or get “big eye” as they call it in Winter. So at first we’re never really sure if everybody is going insane or if there are actual beasts attacking them. I really love it when the director leaves plenty to the imagination of the audience, allowing us to get sucked deeper into the story.

So The Last Winter is successful on that front, and it is gorgeously filmed, especially the outdoor shots. Wide expanses of nothing but white, so much so that the horizon becomes nearly invisible at points. Beautifully minimal, it really emphasizes just how alone the characters are. Sadly, though, Winter ultimately screws up. And in a really big way. The audience is given way too much information at the end. ***minor spoiler*** Instead of leaving us with the assumption that almost everyone has died, we’re given a cheesy and ridiculous ending that looks like the beginning of 28 Days Later. Someone emerges from a hospital and finds the town in chaos, deserted. ***end spoiler*** It’s completely unnecessary and pretty much destroys everything the movie built up.

Sometimes it’s important to know when to say when. I doubt writer/director Larry Fessenden had too much pressure from the higher ups to end it the way he did. I feel like he just thought it was better that way. But when you have such a subtle, delicate movie, it seems so wrong to disregard it all just to over-explain something that couldn’t possibly be explained to begin with.

Regardless, I still recommend The Last Winter. The first 85 minutes of the movie are great, with wonderful performances by most actors and beautiful cinematography. If you don’t mind being let down in the last 15 minutes, then I say go for it. Or better yet, don’t bother watching the end. You won’t be left with a sense of closure but with this kind of movie, you don’t need it.

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One Response

  1. On seeing this in Boston, a friend of mine had a similar reaction to the ending, although it was more along the lines that the ending (particularly the final shot) was too ambitious for the film’s budget to carry it off properly.

    My chief complaint was that the suggested origin of the contagion is a bit too similar to Fessenden’s previous work (see below).

    However, despite the flaws his films sometimes carry, Fessenden is a really unique director, cut from the mold of George Romero in that his horror films generally carry interesting social and philosophical ideas and a good deal of thought mixed in with the creepy stuff.

    His movie Habit is one of the most unique vampire movies ever made and utilizes the same sense of ambiguity that Last Winter starts off with but actually carries it through to the end. It creates an interesting parallel between vampirism and alcoholism.

    Wendigo, which shares many connections with Last Winter in its depiction of the relationship between man and nature, also has interesting an interesting subtext regarding masculinity and mortality. A shame it also contains one of the most overused and silly cliches in supernatural films: having a spiritual character, in this case a Native American, sell or offer an important object to the protagonist, only to have that same protagonist turn to find that person has disappeared and was possibly never there.

    Fessenden also managed to produce the only truly scary episode of the horror anthology series Fear Itself.

    A shame that he’s not more prolific and that his first film ‘No Telling,’ in which he takes on vivisection in the context of the Frankenstein myth, isn’t more readily available.

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