Tuesday, May 24, 2022

#2,758. The Last Winter (2006) - Winter Horror 4-Pack


Larry Fessenden is no stranger to genre fans. As an actor, he’s appeared in such memorable films as We Are Still Here, The Dead Don’t Die, and I Sell the Dead. But Fessenden’s contributions behind the camera are just as impressive. Over the years he’s been a producer (Stake Land, The Innkeepers) as well as a director, writer, editor (he handled all three of these tasks for “N is for Nexus’, one of the shorts featured in 2014’s ABC’s of Death 2) and even cinematographer (he worked the camera for 2016’s Stray Bullets, which was directed by his son Jack).

For 2006’s The Last Winter, Fessenden served as director, co-writer, editor, and even plays a small role (as Foster, an ill-fated executive). Set in the Arctic Circle, The Last Winter is a smartly written, expertly acted horror film that also manages to say a little something about the effects of global warming.

The North Corporation, an American oil company, has sent a team into the Arctic Circle to research the possibility of drilling in the area.

The team’s leader, Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman), is anxious to get things rolling, but is opposed by environmentalist James Hoffman (James LeGros), who believes the rising temperatures may be releasing “sour gas” (which contains hydrogen sulfide) into the air. Hoffman is concerned that this gas might cause hallucinations to crop up among the team, and could even lead to insanity. His fears are strengthened when Maxwell (Zach Gilford), the youngest of the group, disappears for an entire day, then returns saying he “saw something” in the snow.

Still, despite Hoffman’s warnings, Pollack pushes forward, and demands that the environmentalist allow them to move heavy equipment into the area. But Maxwell won’t be the only one to see strange things in the snow, leaving Hoffman and the others to eventually wonder if any of them will get out of this barren wasteland alive.

Ron Perlman delivers a bravura performance as Pollack, the boisterous leader who wants nothing more than to start drilling, and it’s to the actor’s credit that, even when we don’t agree with his actions, we understand his motivations and even kinda like him (when he first arrives, Pollack gets everyone outside to play an impromptu game of football). LeGros is also quite good as Hoffman, the voice of reason, and the scenes in which his character and Pollack butt heads are among the film’s most compelling.

Rounding out the excellent cast are Zach Gilford as the troubled Maxwell; Connie Britton as Abby, Pollack’s former flame who is now romantically involved with Hoffman (causing even greater friction between the two men); Kevin Corrigan as Motor, the substance-abusing mechanic; Jamie Harrold as Elliot, Hoffman’s nosebleed-prone assistant; and Pato Hoffmann as Lee, a native Alaskan who believes the troubles are being caused by a Wendigo, an evil spirit that possesses humans and causes them to act out violently.

Along with the performances, The Last Winter is beautifully shot, capturing the stark, frozen landscape in a way that only adds to the overall tension, and there are even supernatural elements introduced in the form of ghostly animals that appear from time to time, stampeding across the snow. Though we’re never quite sure if these spirits are real or simply hallucinations, the scenes in which they are featured are among the most compelling in the entire film.

Throw in a pretty convincing plane crash, some decent make-up effects (one deceased team member loses his eyes to some hungry ravens), and a final 10 minutes you won’t soon forget, and you have a horror film that does more than simply deliver a message on global warming.
Rating: 8 out of 10

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