The Last Winter
(2006, 107 mins, color, dr, Larry Fessenden)

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VARIETY by Denis Harvey 9/19/06
SCREEN DAILY by Patrick Z McGavin 9/22/06
NEW YORK TIMES by Manohla Dargis
Carina Chocano
FANGORIA /4 by Michael Gingold
FILM COMMENT by John Anderson
NEW YORK MAGAZINE (Critic's Pick) by David Edelstein
NEW YORK POST /4 by V.A. Musetto

L.A. DAILY NEWS by Bob Strauss
eFILMCRITIC /5 by Jay Seaver
SALON By Andrew O'Hehir
PREMIERE by Aaron Hillis
THE NEW REPUBLIC by Stanley Kauffmann
PAPER MAGAZINE by Dennis Dermody
CINEMATICAL.COM by Christopher Campbell
TVGUIDE.COM /4 by Maitland McDonagh
SCI-FI WEEKLY by Michael Marano
REVERSESHOT by Andrew Tracy
N. J. STAR-LEDGER /4 by Stephen Whitty
QUEEN ANN NEWS by Kathleen Murphy 5/30/07
DREADCENTRAL /4 by Paul McCannibal
SLANT MAGAZINE /4 by Nick Schager
THE HORROR REVIEW /4 by Steve West
TWITCHfilm by Collin A
INDIEWIRE by Michael Koresky
QUIET EARTH - 8/4/07 (8 out of 10)
MJSIMPSON.CO.UK - 8/1/07 (Rating: A)
by Lisa Rosman
THE L MAGAZINE by Cullen Gallagher
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TENNESSEAN by Jason Shawhan
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MONSTERS AND CRITICS /4 by Ron Wilkinson
MOVIESONLINE.CA /10 by Robert Bell
POP SYNDICATE /5 by Nick Anno

FEARZONE.COM by Greg Lamberson
by Bill Chambers

DREADCENTRAL by Johnny Butane
ICONSOFFRIGHT.COM by the Evil Barnick

VIDEO WATCHDOG's Favorite DVDs of 2008


DVD VERDICT by Adam Arseneau
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SEATTLE PI by S. P. Miskowski


IF MAGAZINE by Peter Brown
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VUE WEEKLY by Josef Braun


HOLLYWOOD REPORTER - Gregg Goldstein 9/5/06
CINEMATICAL - Scott Weinberg 9/17/06
LA WEEKLY BLOG - Scott Foundas 9/18/06
EYE WEEKLY - Adam Nayman
CINEMASCOPE - Adam Nyman 12/18/06
DREADCENTRAL - Horrors of Fantasia 7/19/07


FEAR ZONE by Joseph Fusco
DREAD CENTRAL by Johnny Butane

press junket: portrait taken at the Toronto Film Fest for wireimage


HOLLYWOOD REPORTER 9/6/06 - Greg Goldstein
CINEMASCOPE Dec 2006 - Adam Nayman
FANGORIA, August 2007 - Don Kaye
THE NEW YORK SUN Sept 14, 2007 - Steve Dollar
THE REELER Sept 17, 2007 - S.T. VanAirsdale
RAY PRIVETT BLOG Sept 19, 2007
L.A. WEEKLY Sept 19, by Judith Lewis
FILMMAKER Sept 18, 2007 by Damon Smith
SHOCK TIL YOU DROP by Edward Douglas
IFC NEWS by Aaron Hillis
THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR 2007 by Jeremiah Kipp


QUIET EARTH.US The Rating: 8 out of 10

This movie was really reminiscent of John Carpenter's The Thing which I loved, and I have to say I've been a Ron Perlman fan ever since City of Lost Children. So basically you take these two elements together, throw in a great storyline, some great acting, an incredible ending, mix it all together... and you have a solid 8. Go see it! It's great! Larry, please, make The Last Winter part 2! Link



That Red on White Is Blood on Snow

Something wicked this way comes in the nifty horror film “The Last Winter,” crawling through the hallways and howling into the dread night. Set in the blinding white beauty of the Alaskan wilderness (though mostly shot in Iceland), the story brings us close to a small research team scouting the crude commercial possibilities for a large oil concern. Under the corporate rubric of “energy independence,” the company hopes to drill through the permafrost, a scheme that promises shivers that have nothing to do with the cold. Ah, but the ice is melting, melting, which makes the truth as inconvenient as it is deadly.

It’s amazing what you can do with a low budget, an expansive imagination and a smooth-moving camera. (A fine cast helps.) An heir to the Val Lewton school of elegantly restrained horror, wherein an atmosphere of dread counts far more than a bucket of blood and some slippery entrails, the director Larry Fessenden is among the most thoughtful Americans working on the lower-budget end of this oft-abused and mindlessly corrupted genre.

Apocalyptic in title and tone, “The Last Winter,” written by Robert Leaver and Mr. Fessenden, breathes fresh air into a stale setup (an isolated group gone stir crazy or something) by insisting that our everyday horrors aren’t a matter of arid news reports but of feverishly real, terrifying life.
And death, of course: for the wind-battered and sunburned team running the outpost, debased life will soon beget anguished death, drop by bloody drop. But first there are signs and visions, cawing black birds and mysteriously thundering hooves.

During the day the team’s lead science researcher, Hoffman (James Le Gros), stares into the surrounding wild whiteness like a writer searching for words, for anything, in front of a never-ending and terrifyingly empty sheet of paper. At night he slips into the obliterating darkness with a company true believer, Abby (Connie Britton), who once offered shelter to the team’s boisterous leader, Pollack (Ron Perlman), a comic-strip villain with a cigar and a mouthful of gravel and nonsense.

There are others wandering the corridors, oiling the machinery, filling in the blanks and ably hitting their marks: a mechanic named Motor (the reliable Kevin Corrigan); another scientist, Elliot (a very fine Jamie Harrold); a stray lamb, Maxwell (Zach Gilford); a smiling cook, Dawn (Joanne Shenandoah); and a mystery man with piercing eyes, Lee (Pato Hoffmann), who seems to know more than anyone else but doesn’t ask and never tells.

Each adds another part of the story with a laugh, a gesture or even louder silences. Twisting his lips and adjusting his glasses, Elliot puts Hoffman into an even more eccentric light than he might otherwise appear, undermining our faith in the very character (the lead, perhaps the hero) toward whom the film seems to be nudging us.

The question of Hoffman’s role, as well as of his trustworthiness, hovers over the story, leaking into the camp hallways like a gas. With his soft, youthful face glazed red-brick and partly obscured by his beard, Mr. Le Gros invests the character with sympathy without making him especially likable. There’s something closed off about this man, despite his nocturnal visits and talks with Abby, as if he’d already surrendered part of himself to some other force. He’s the first to sound the alarm, though it isn’t initially clear if his early warnings, delivered with mad-prophet quiet and ominously scribbled research notebooks, mean that he’s the canary in the coal mine or the cat in the birdhouse. Our desire for a hero is as unsettling as it is instructive.

Against the vast white of “The Last Winter,” every man and woman eventually looks like a blot on the landscape, like a mistake. Working with the Icelandic cinematographer G. Magni Agustsson, Mr. Fessenden makes great expressive use of his natural canvas and its negative space, playing with the depth of field so that the whiteness either seems to stretch on forever or suddenly flatten, at times turning these fully dimensional human figures into silhouetted cutouts.

This metaphorically resonant visual trick works beautifully for Mr. Fessenden’s genre and political purposes, adding pathos and urgency to the creeping unease. Here, when someone’s nose begins to bleed, it isn’t long before that drip turns into a gusher.



SCREEN DAILY by Patrick Z McGavin 9/22/06

The fourth feature from idiosyncratic American independent director Larry Fessenden, The Last Winter expertly conflates the psychological dread fundamental to the horror genre, broadening it out into a deeper, existential malaise about the disintegration of civilisation.

A story about the madness that engulfs a disparate group at a remote Alaskan drilling site, the movie is clearly influenced visually and thematically by Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and John Carpenter’s version of The Thing. It is marred by some didactic passages about ecological and corporate plunder, but otherwise this unnerving allegory on greed and conquest was one of the major discoveries at Toronto.

Admittedly, it is a difficult film to market: like the works of George Romero, The Last Winter is an intellectual horror movie that mourns the loss of humanity. The right US distributor should find a way to take advantage of the movie’s strong visual qualities, excellent cast and probing content to reach a discerning audience. Internationally, the film’s topical concerns about the devastating environmental consequences of developing alternate energy sources carry a strong contemporary relevance.

A team of scientists and engineers is dispatched by North Industries, an American energy conglomerate, to a remote outpost of the Alaska frontier for a top-secret drilling expedition. Fessenden expertly draws out the group dynamics, quickly establishing the tension between Hoffman (LeGros), the scientist assigned to assess the environmental impact, and Pollock (Perlman), the entrepreneurial, driven drill leader who is highly sceptical of Hoffman’s credentials. Their rivalry is exacerbated by their shared sexual history with Abby (Britton), who is now sleeping with Hoffman.

But the crew’s private drama is soon replaced by strange, unexplainable actions at their command centre. Abnormally high temperatures imperil the group’s ability to import the heavy machinery required for the drill; later Maxwell (Gilford), the least experienced member, goes missing and turns up at the base hours later but subject to increasingly bizarre behaviour.

Soon it becomes clear that something is dangerously amiss, as the group’s severe isolation and the increasing presence of some primordial force slowly begins their collective unraveling. Maxwell, is the first to die but not the last, as fellow workers succumb to a variety of demises, from a plane crash to suffocating each other.

Eventually Hoffman and Pollock undertake a perilous quest to get help that evolves into their mysterious and unnerving confrontation with the malevolent force.
The Last Winter is an unusual work, an art movie that frightens and disrupts. Fessenden’s tone is to effectively underplay the horror, as the stillness and foreboding sense of rupture contribute to the developing panic.

It loses a little something in the final act, when Fessenden finally unveils the ghostly, spectral presence that haunts the group, but by then it is governed by a sharp, punishing and dismayingly believable pessimism about the human condition that instils fright in its audience.

Shooting in Iceland, Fessenden uses the blindingly white snowbound landscapes to signal an inescapable sense of doom and terrifying regret. Working with cinematographer G Magni Agustsson, he deploys sinuous, vertiginous camera movements and vertical, high overhead shots that underline the emphatic break between civilisation and nature: the The Last Winter’s power is in how actions and events are felt as much as they are seen.

The effects work is strong, presenting the crew’s nemesis in two guises: a massive, almost alien figure; and a spectral, ghost-like herd of deer which charge in huge formations and stomp a couple of victims to death.



FILM COMMENT by John Anderson

Larry Fessenden works with horror and irony the way Giacometti worked with clay—paring away at conventions, shaving matters down to their starkest. This might not bode well for his hapless characters’ physical welfare, but it does preserve the dread.

Fessenden’s Habit (97) was a Looking for Ms. Goodbarwith fangs, and one of the first films to cocktail shake sex, blood, and HIVinto a horror context; Wendigo (01), a chiller rooted in Indian lore about transmogrification, turned the seemingly placid terrain of snowy upstate New York into a realm of gothic foreboding.

It’s the second of these that echoes in Fessenden’s latest, The Last Winter, which is set in Alaska, and in which, unlike any of its obvious progenitors in Arctic creep—from The Thingto Zero Kelvin—the problem with the frosty landscape is that it isn’t cold enough. Centered on a group of oil prospectors, it is invested with a fear not of the supernatural, but the natural: the world is warming and as it thaws, something angry and septic is being unleashed out of the long-dormant, no-longer-perma permafrost.

The director, working from a script by himself and Robert Leaver, finds a lode of Hitchcockian potential out of doors, where snow makes a nightly flight across the stark white light of G. Magni Agustsson’s camera and where the more delusional members of the North Industries drilling team see phosphorescent herds of antlered phantoms stampeding through the gloom. Unexplained nosebleeds. Naked blue-white corpses with their eyes plucked out. Madness. Team leader Pollack (Ron Perlman), the quintessential short-fused, unmanageable manager, has quite a few problems on his hands.

The principal one, he thinks, is his polar opposite, Hoffman (James LeGros), an environmental activist and, significantly, Pollack’s physio-aesthetic rebuttal. Hoffman, who is there to monitor the ethically dubious North company, is emblematic of economy and conservation—he lacks the enormous resources, shall we say, of a Pollack, but has done as much as he can with what he has. (Think Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws.) Pollack, meanwhile, is ignorant, avaricious, and wastefully huge (think . . . the United States?). And there’s something larger than both of them, and far more dangerous, out there in the Great White North.

A lifelong New Yorker, Fessenden—whose sideline acting career has included playing an emergency-room patient strapped to a gurney in Bringing Out the Dead—doesn’t seem overly fond of the great outdoors. He finds in the tundra’s poverty of physical detail something vaguely corrupt. Characters often float in white, negative space, and the varied, always-fluid shooting suggests a searching for something to grasp hold of.

Fessenden has been long producing work by maverick filmmakers, often, but not always, in the horror genre (Douglas Buck’s 2006 remake of Sisters, for instance, but also Kelly Reichardt’s 1994 River of Grass, in which Fessenden played the lead). What he brings to his own film is an increasingly confident, collagist instinct with style and camera movement, a marriage of the visual with the visceral. No one comes away from films like Saw and Hostel thinking much about the lighting or the transitions, but even though The Last Winter has a certain immediacy, it also has a cumulative richness born of both terror and technique, plus a juxtaposition of interpersonal, indoor relationships against an ethereal, frigid void that stands in for the entirety of a miserable, exploited, and pissed-off planet. The Last Winter isn’t a message movie per se, but the inconvenient truth of the matter is that Fessenden, as he did with Habit’s post-AIDS vampire treatment, has found something profoundly, metaphysically scary within the facts and figures of global warming.



EYE WEEKLY - Adam Nayman

The Last Winter is a perfect compliment to The Host: both are potent eco-horror movies featuring vengeful, metaphorical manifestations of the dangers of environmental neglect. But where Bong Joon-Ho’s wildly entertaining crowd-pleaser posits a solution to pollution, Larry Fessenden’s slyly allusive account of group of oil-mongers fending off madness and malevolent Earth spirits in the Arctic (shades of The Thing and The Shining, and, pointedly, The Birds) builds mournfully towards total apocalypse. The film feels a logical extension of the director’s previous hell-hath-no-fury-like-mother-Nature-scorned masterpiece Wendigo (2002), and, in its odd blend of ellipticism and direct allegory, it’s probably the closest an American director will ever come to making a Kyoshi Kurosawa movie. Fessenden says he wants to make “B-movies with A-ideas in them,” and he’s succeeded astonishingly. Link




Alaska also kills a lot of unwitting people in writer-director Larry Fessenden’s unnerving global-warming ghost picture The Last Winter. Like his Wendigo, the film has a lot of mumbo jumbo about ancient spirits revived and angered by human disrespect—the old Indian-graveyard paradigm, as clunky as ever. But the context is overpoweringly eerie. The setting is the satellite office of an oil company—set in the middle of frigid, blinding white blankness. A company geologist (the intensely likable, underused James LeGros) has grave concerns about the melting permafrost, but the boss (Ron Perlman in one of his entertaining blowhard turns) puts profit (and authority) before all—even after members of the team begin dropping dead from some nameless terror and getting their eyes picked out by ravens. There’s something under that permafrost, encased for millions of years, now awake and pissed-off. The Last Winter was shot in northern Iceland and Alaska, and despite some too-explicit imagery in the final moments, the claustrophobia-to-psychosis continuum is harrowingly fluid. Link



THE VILLAGE VOICE - Nathan Lee, September 18th, 2007 12:04 PM

The Winter of Major Discontent
: See Larry Fessenden's latest and you'll never complain about flurries again

Set at the base camp of a corporate expedition to establish an oil-mining operation in the Alaskan Arctic circle, The Last Winter is one of those ghost stories concerned with an accursed house built atop ancient burial grounds— except here the house is civilization itself, and the angry spirits are those of ancient plants and animals rising from the chthonic sludge of crude oil. Mother Earth taking revenge for a localized intrusion is one way to parse this canny conceptual horror film, and one way to account for what appears to be the rampage of demonic CGI caribou. Another way to see it is as a fable of speculative evolution: This is what happens when our time on the planet is up; this is, literally, the last winter of humankind.

The latest from independent fright-flick auteur Larry Fessenden (Habit, Wendigo) is careful not to explain the exact nature of its mounting crises: strange phenomenon at the horizon, the onset of madness and suicide among the crew, vehicular malfunction, psychological meltdowns, crows pecking the eyes out of nude popsicle corpses. Fessenden executes his ambiguities with great precision of mood and atmosphere, maximizing the unfathomable dimensions of his white-on-white wasteland, the claustrophobic interiors of the base camp, and the perks of a far larger production than he's accustomed to, milking those helicopter shots for all they're worth.

Ever a resourceful director of actors, his human touch falters somewhat in the rote psychodrama that pits the ego of a corporate blowhard (Ron Perlman) against the conscience of an environmental consultant (James LeGros), then triangulates the two in a jealous love triangle with a scientist (Connie Britton) of vague motives. But it's the imaginative background, and Fessenden's talent at insinuating it into the action, that counts—and unnerves—in this most chilling of global-warming movies. LINK



L.A. DAILY NEWS by Bob Strauss, September 21, 2007

Winter' will scare you stiff
It's a 'Winter' warning-land

Far and away the scariest movie of the year - and certainly the smartest, "The Last Winter" delivers a much more frightening warning about global warming than any superstar-hosted documentary.

Consistently chilling (no, that's not a pun), with crisp, haunting visuals and sound character relationships, this latest work from Larry Fessenden ("Wendigo") proves that low-budget, indie horror films can not only be about something important but are at their best when doing so.

The film was shot with an old master's sense of composition, space and the magical power of what and what not to show by the young cinematographer G. Magni Agustsson in his native Iceland. Most of it takes place at a remote Alaskan energy company outpost in late winter. Plants are poking up through the thinning snow, rain falls, and carnivorous crows are coming back to roost much too early. The permafrost is melting, undermining the ice roads commonly used to truck goods in and out of Arctic oil country - and releasing God-knows-what that's been frozen in the ground for untold thousands of years.

Gruff company honcho Ed (Ron Perlman) flies back to the little collection of sheds and Quonset huts after some time south at headquarters. Jovial but intimidating, Ed is unhappy to find that the two environmentalists the corporation hired to make an impact study are sure that temperatures are rising too fast to make oil drilling in the area ecologically safe - or probably even feasible. Ed is even less pleased to discover that his former lover Abby (Connie Britton) has taken up with furry tree-hugger James (James LeGros).
The two men inevitably lock horns. And as things grow more and more dire out on the tundra, their arguments come to represent different philosophies and interpretations of the natural crisis that threatens to engulf them.

This may sound cerebral, but it's played out with rising visceral terror. Something - sour gas emissions from an old well maybe, but probably far worse - starts affecting everybody, both mentally and bodily. People run naked into the frigid wilderness at night (it may technically be getting warm, but it sure ain't warm enough for that).
Tough guys wet their beds. Was that the wind, or did a herd of ghost elk just stampede by?

"Last Winter" leaves much to the imagination, but not in the incoherent manner of most modern horror films. While Fessenden definitely proposes that something's going very screwy with the world, his movie shrewdly suggests that the exact nature of the Earth's counterattack may well be unfathomable. What we don't know, what we don't want to know, what we can't figure out in time; these are the true demons stalking "The Last Winter."

And they frightened me to death. LINK



VARIETY - Dennis Harvey 9/19/06

After watching mankind wreck her handiwork, Mother Nature's vengeance shifts from global-warming-slow to horror-movie-swift in "The Last Winter." Most physically expansive feature to date by Larry Fessenden sports the virtues of his prior efforts ("Habit," "Wendigo"), which are also their commercial limitations -- i.e. an emphasis on character dynamics, slow-burning tension and offbeat narrative rather than the usual genre checklist of monster sightings, false scares and gory deaths. U.S.-Iceland co-prod is an imperfect but compelling thriller that will probably fare best in ancillary -- a pity, since its wide-open-space compositions cry for the bigscreen.

Stark Alaskan setting (exteriors were shot both there and in Iceland) and paranoid atmosphere recall "The Thing," as a crew similarly shacked up in blandly functional, claustrophobic live-work quarters gradually come undone in the face of an unknown, largely unseen enemy. In this case, they're a team sent by North Industries to prepare for oil extraction from the hitherto protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Desperate for "energy independence," the government is clearly entwined with corporate interests. But to put a good face on things they've allowed two free-agent "Greenies" -- esteemed ecological watchdog/author James Hoffman (James Le Gros) and his assistant Elliot (Jamie Harrold) -- to do a environmental impact study before drilling begins. The principled James isn't about to just let commerce go its merry way. He was at the Kuwaiti oil fires (glimpsed utilizing clips from Werner Herzog's "Lessons of Darkness") and the Exxon Valdez spill, and fears consequences at least as disastrous here -- already, unseasonably warm temperatures are creating logistical problems, and there are signs that the permafrost is melting.

His suspicions that there is seriously "something off" are treated as wacko and a needless obstacle by macho, hot-tempered team leader Pollock (Ron Perlman), who's just returned from five weeks at corporate headquarters. Nor is Pollock's mood lightened by discovering that in his absence, second-in-command Abby (Connie Britton) has shifted her warm bodily allegiance from his bed to James'. Hoffman's foreboding and Pollock's obstinacy each gain in collision-ready force as a series of mystifying events occur. Communication and power go haywire, cutting the inhabitants off from outside help. Young intern Maxwell (Zachary Gilford) goes missing, and when he is found at the site of a 20-year-old test drilling, he has been traumatized to near-catatonia by some encounter he can't articulate. His freak-out presages a series of illogical behaviors, inexplicable health problems and disturbing accidents that start whittling the station's human population down.

Horror fans used to more conventional material may find buildup too slow, supernatural aspects too restrained, and the final payoff too vague and not ghastly enough. (Most harrowing scenes are realistic perils, like one figure's sudden plunge through thin ice into freezing waters.) But "Last Winter" succeeds precisely where most contempo horror films cut corners, in creating credible characters whose fate we come to dread amidst situations that reel out of control degree by methodical degree.

G. Magni Agustsson's lensing is a great assist, as it makes the arctic landscape a still, merciless menace toward the frail intruders' well-being. Music is used very sparingly, with astute wider deployment of Anton Sanko's ambient soundscapes. Solid cast is headlined by Perlman in assertive familiar form as a bullying but not unsympathetic he-man. But burden of conviction here falls on the always excellent Le Gros, who in a rare lead registers all the intelligent unease that the increasingly far-fetched tale needs for suspension of viewer disbelief. Link



FANGORIA - Michael Gingold 7/18/07

What a pleasure it has been to watch the development of writer/director Larry Fessenden’s career, as his films have slowly gained in scope while maintaining an intensely personal vision, exploring deep themes while succeeding on a pure genre level. THE LAST WINTER is his biggest film yet in both scale and thematic ambition, tackling the hot-button theme of global warming with an approach that favors dramatic impact over didacticism. Only those who sit down already inclined to feel like they’re going to be preached to could find fault with it; the rest will enjoy a movie packed with atmosphere and a chilly feeling only partially due to the Alaskan setting.

The wilds of that northern state is where a small team is prepping the site of an impending oil-drilling operation as the story begins. Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman), head of the operation, will brook no interruptions, and isn’t especially happy about the arrival of James Hoffman (James LeGros), who’s there to prepare an environmental impact statement. Having witnessed other disastrous example of people’s negative effect on ecosystems, Hoffman is already inclined to deliver bad news to Pollack, and soon finds that rising temperatures are posed to throw roadblocks in the team’s way (literally; the lack of subzero conditions means that the “ice roads” necessary to transport equipment can’t be established).

Meanwhile, nature begins to strike back in more direct albeit initially subtle ways. The environment seems to be having a deleterious effect on the team’s minds, starting with Maxwell (Zachary Gilford), a young worker who goes off on a scouting trip and doesn’t return. Others in the group begin suffering from mental and physical debilitation, and Hoffman starts to wonder: Is it the result of “sour gas” (hydrogen sulfide from deep in the Earth seeping up due to the melting of the permafrost), or something a little more paranormal in nature? One thing’s for sure: Pollack’s sour mood at what he sees as Hoffman’s meddling isn’t helped by the fact that the newcomer is bedding his assistant and former lover Abby (Connie Britton).

The interpersonal conflicts and signs of impending doom are played out against a stark background of marvelously foreboding locations (filmed in Iceland), and Fessenden employs both tight close-ups and wide vistas to emphasize the characters’ isolation. The script he wrote with Robert Leaver maintains a level of drama and characterization that holds the attention throughout, even before any of the horror elements come into play. As in Fessenden’s previous film, the marvelous family-breakdown chiller WENDIGO, the filmmaker engages our sympathy for, or at least understanding of, everyone on screen, and while his own stance on the subject of global warming (a phrase which he smartly uses only once in the dialogue) couldn’t be clearer, he avoids making Pollack an obstinate monster and Hoffman an environmental knight in shining armor. The former is a man devoted to progress and a job well done who truly believes he’s serving his country by providing homegrown energy sources, while there are suggestions that Hoffman has let his activism curdle into unreasonable obsession.

Everyone on screen, in fact, develops a genuine personality, and the performances are first-rate across the board. With his protagonists so well-established, Fessenden mercilessly tightens the screws in the second half, as the landscape’s rebellion against those who would despoil it becomes increasingly direct. There are a couple of great jump-out-of-your-seat jolts, but for the most part the director develops an eerie intensity that builds to a boil and doesn’t let up for the entire last act. It’s not giving too much away to reveal that the spirit of the Wendigo makes a return appearance, and while THE LAST WINTER employs the most expansive special FX yet in a Fessenden film, he uses them judiciously so that they don’t overwhelm the narrative. Even when he stages a plane crash, his focus remains on the destructive results on the ground, rather than the spectacle.

Although Fessenden’s movies have always looked good even on their smallest budgets, THE LAST WINTER (his first feature in widescreen) contains his most striking visuals yet, as he has teamed with cinematographer G. Magni Agustsson to create exterior environments of white desolation and confined interiors increasingly suffused in threatening darkness. Just as crucial to the movie’s success are Jeff Grace’s music and Anton Sanko’s eerie ambient soundscapes, which help turn the setting into an antagonist of its own. Yet even if the environment becomes something of a villain, its actions, like those of the humans occupying it for just a short time, are justified by the situation. THE LAST WINTER makes an impact statement of its own: Without preaching, it puts an up-to-the-minute spin on the traditional horror-movie lesson that it’s not wise to tamper with Mother Nature. Link


PREMIERE by Aaron Hillis (posted 9/21/07)

An indie auteur whose creative integrity is easy for cinephiles to get behind, actor-filmmaker Larry Fessenden (Habit, Wendigo) has become a sort of heir apparent to American horror mavericks like George Romero and Larry Cohen, in that each of his films — unlike the artless gore-fests that blight the genre today — is a richly drawn, ambitious character piece both socially relevant and genuinely suspenseful. Fessenden's latest and most polished production to date presents a northern Alaska–set eco-cautionary terror tale, in which the villain might be a physical manifestation of an angry environment itself — is it that humans are actually the monsters and become a target of planetary vengeance for global warming?

Conservatives and Al Gore haters are seeing red now, but the only thing you shouldn't be scared of is Fessenden's progressive agenda, since both sides of this so-called partisan issue are fairly represented in the film's complex humanizations. Isolated at an arctic outpost owned by Big Oil, an advance team exploring drilling potential is led by blowhard skipper Pollack (a pitch-perfect Perlman), a steadfast company man who is entirely irked by the presence of environmental impact surveyor Hoffman (an equally compelling Le Gros) — and not just because the latter has been shacking up with Pollack's next-in-command Abby (Connie Britton). Manly clashes ensue, their dinnertime debates punctuated by iconic news footage: clips from the Exxon Valdez spill, the Kuwaiti oil fires, busy weathermen and the like, each image a talking point as if healthy chatter were enough to turn off this apocalypse-in-waiting. When the permafrost starts melting, ghostly winds kick up something fierce, and a crewmember turns up dead and naked in the snow, everyone begins succumbing to unseen forces (or is it their collective psychological breakdown?), and a wicked atmosphere of claustrophobia materializes through Fessenden's cunning sense of widescreen spatiality: nightmarish empty corridors and elegantly swirling aerials ominously gazing down from the skies. This is filmmaking both gorgeous and deeply unsettling.

The inability to go home again is the inconvenient truth at the heart of Fessenden's story, and his passion/frustration is so palpable that he nearly loses his footing by making the wrong thing literally tangible: the ambiguous enemy itself. The film offers the director's first foray into CGI, but although it's used sparingly, the last-act unearthing of an antlered, semi-transparent creature is diminishingly literal-minded in the same way the final shot is rightfully so: a confused and regretful survivor walks out into seasonably inexplicable rain, standing trembling beside a gas-guzzling SUV. It's blunt, yes, but should an emotional message of worldwide alarm be anything less than so? LINK



THE NEW REPUBLIC by Stanley Kauffmann

The world's energy problems have been winding through films, one way or another, at least since The China Syndrome in 1979. The Last Winter is fundamentally on this subject, but its focus is unusual. The film is set in a station along an Alaskan pipeline, a station of some size and comfort where a group of men and a few women keep watch. The subject of energy in this case becomes a matter not primarily of economics and politics but of personal conditions--a relatively few people clumped together in the middle of immense emptiness.
An oil rig in mid-ocean is the immediate comparison, but the oil-rig crew has the limitation and (as it turns out) the blessing of never leaving their station. These people in Alaska have phones and computers and video, but they are surrounded by space that they must continually explore--three hundred and sixty degrees of snow that only at first seems static, arctically pastoral.

The screenplay is by Robert Leaver and the experienced director Larry Fessenden. This was my first encounter with Fessen- den's work, despite his reputation for high-level scare films, and very quickly indeed it is clear that he is not any kind of exploitation maven. He is gifted, knowledgeable, keen--possibly a bit canted in his choice of materials but an authentic, serious film-maker. More: he establishes these points less by the vistas of immensity, although they are stunning, than by the way he handles the corridors and rooms and doorways within. The oil station begins early to remind us of the spaceship in 2001. The station is (yes) stationary, and the space outside is not super-cosmic, merely incredible, but again the people within are bound together by more than physical proximity.

The story, which has mostly to do with the authority of the chief and with one of the women, is adequate but is only the means of dealing with the themes. What really happens here is that, while the story is going on, the real conflict is between the space outside and the diminutive human beings within it. Eventually this conflict has a dire effect on one of the crew, and consequences follow. Mentions recur throughout of world matters like global warming, but the film is really about a set of specific human circumstances that follow from those huge matters.

Well, up to a point. Now comes some shaded news. Around two-thirds of the way through the film, a severe accident occurs at the station, and The Last Winter suddenly shifts from the subjects above to a much more usual drama of physical survival in dangerous conditions. The radios and phones go out, people get hurt, the chief and one of the crew set out on snowmobiles for the nearest station, twenty-five miles away. The film's whole tone shifts--from subtle mystery to blunt drama. The new tone is scarily handled, but it is a lesser film. Apparently the writers felt that the natural conclusion of the larger drama they had begun would take too long and would not be vivid enough. So they threw in the accident--tingly but a chromatic transposition.

Fessenden, who is his own editor, has splashed in from time to time some glimpses of a character's thoughts or fears or past or future, all of which help to maintain the atmosphere of overview that carries most of the picture. The cast is certainly adequate, especially the chief, played by Ron Perlman. Decades ago I used to see Perlman in avant-garde drama Off-Broadway. Time and adventure have now brought him to gruff authority in the midst of the Alaskan wild.

And that brings up the last fascinating point. It is not Alaska. The picture was shot in Iceland. The cinematographer, G. Magni Ágústsson, is Icelandic. If the fact that this is his native country helped him with his exterior lighting, it is certainly a boon. But his interiors are at least as good, subtly lit, precise. Once again Ágústsson proves that first-class cinematography is now international. LINK



CINEMATICAL.COM by Christopher Campbell

In a spaceship, in an underwater vessel or in an Arctic or Antarctic station, some of the best science fiction takes place in an isolated setting. More precisely, such locations are the convention of the narrower genre of sci-fi horror, in which remote environments combined with tight, claustrophobic spaces are perfect for the unleashing of our worst fears. This is, of course, obvious to any viewer, who recognizes these are places difficult or impossible to escape or be rescued from. But more importantly these settings allow for psychological conflicts that parallel, heighten or even overshadow the genre's typical conflicts with aliens, sentient computers or supernatural beings.

Take Larry Fessenden's latest film, The Last Winter, which is set in an Arctic station and follows all the rules of the sci-fi horror genre, while almost completely leaving out the physical conflict. Yes, it features a supernatural threat, but it doesn't need one, because the film works so brilliantly as simply a psychological mood piece. In most of these kinds of films, the creature or villain is the pay-off for the audience that seeks some sort of spectacle, or at least some material baddie to make for a cinematically appropriate, externally battled climax. In The Last Winter however, the spectacle actually falls flat because it consists of disappointingly horrible special effects.

Good thing the spectacle is unnecessary and disregardable, because otherwise, The Last Winter is an excellent genre film with an honorable and intelligent global warming message mixed in. At least one critic has already referred to it as "The Thing meets An Inconvenient Truth," but that label makes the film seem more lecturing than it truly is. Instead Fessenden manages to merely touch on the global warming issue without being heavy-handed or preachy, and he concentrates primarily on the drama of the characters as they relate to the sparse, blindingly white landscape.

The station here is in Northern Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (substituted with Icelandic shooting locations), where an oil company is looking for places to drill. Like the best of its genre, The Last Winter features a varied team of experts, each played effectively by distinguished character actors. There's the headstrong leader, Ed (Ron Perlman – in the rare normal, human performance), his more-sensitive yet still conservative second-in-command, Abby (Connie Britton), the young new recruit, Max (Zach Gilford) and the nutty mechanic, Motor (Kevin Corrigan). For regional expertise, there are two Native American teammates, one a quiet, reserved, elder type (Pato Hoffman) and the other a lovably plump cook/medic (Joanne Shenandoah).

The trouble for the station begins when Max goes missing while out mapping the territory. When he finally returns, he's not exactly possessed, but he has an equally mysterious nature about him. At first, he just seems spooked, while claiming to have seen things out in the snow. According to him, the land is haunted by the ghosts of the animals that roamed there eons ago, as in those creatures since turned into fossil fuels. Then, obsessed with what he supposedly saw, and set to prove it to the rest of them, he heads out one night with a video camera and no clothes. The next day he is found frozen to death, with his eyes pecked out by birds. Slowly other team members start to lose it, and seemingly non-paranormal yet coincidentally strange accidents occur. And yes, more people end up dead.

Meanwhile, also staying at the station is a pair of environmental scientists, James (James LeGross) and his assistant, Elliot (Jamie Harrold), who cause Ed headaches by pointing out that the weather is too sporadic and the temperature is rising too exponentially for the team to ethically continue their work. Despite the duo's clashes with Ed's ambitions, though, they also are technically working for the oil company. So, even though James means well and wants to make an impact, he is replaceable and therefore not too influential. This somewhat makes Ed and James two sides of the same coin, and neither of them is really more of a protagonist than the other. What is interesting about their tension is that Ed is like an aged strong man while James is like an aged pretty boy, as if they are two passed-over Hollywood action-hero types who can no longer cut it if faced with a villainous threat. So, basically they're both screwed as far as whatever supernatural force might be out there, because it could really care less about what each man's ideals are.
But let's address the problem of that supernatural force, which eventually does materialize on screen in the form of some cheap CGI. It is fair to dismiss the bad-looking apparitions by deciding that they are inconsequential and maybe even just representative of the bad visions in the minds of the characters. The great thing about the eerie events in The Last Winter is that they all could happen under normal circumstances and with perfectly natural explanations. Like Fessenden's other work, particularly his almost equally appreciable previous film, Wendigo, the supernatural is treated as it is typically treated in real life, as a loose possibility to those who might believe in it, but completely ignorable to those who can find other, more rational answers.

Fessenden's genius is his ability to balance themes and ideas, like that of the natural versus supernatural, so that there is tension and also equilibrium. The Last Winter additionally features this balance in its dual non-protagonists, as well as in its ability to be both a sci-fi horror film and a message film. The story compliments and anchors the intentionally communicated issues (again, Fessenden is not subtle, but neither is he forceful), and vice versa, with neither overemphasized.

The Last Winter is very similar to Danny Boyle's Sunshine, another excellent science fiction film from this year, which was unfortunately ignored in theaters. It too featured the conventions of the sci-fi horror genre and it also suffered only from and in its climactic struggle with a material villain, again unnecessary within the film's context. But like The Last Winter, Sunshine worked terrifically as a smartly examined story about the mental capacities of humans put in extreme environments. The two films are atmospherically so different, but psychologically so equivalent. I highly recommend them both, maybe as a double feature. LINK



PAPER MAGAZINE by Dennis Dermody


Check out The Last Winter opening this week. I admit to being a fan of director’s Larry Fessenden’s artful, eerie, terror tales (Wendigo, Habit), and his new slice of strangeness takes place at a remote Alaskan outpost where a team is investigating the readiness for oil drilling while the drastic climate changes and the increasingly alarming behavior of the crew suggest that there’s “something off."

Ron Perlman plays the blustery macho boss desperate to get the project rolling who locks horns with an ecological investigator (the always terrific James LeGross). But when mysterious deaths begin to occur it does seem to suggest something supernatural might be rising from the earth. I suppose this can be called environmental horror, or An Inconvenient Spook. But Fessenden does wonders with fluid camerawork and music creating the mood of isolation and shifting moods of the crew in this this icy wilderness. When the terror kicks it’s wonderfully disorienting and creepy. A darkly poetic apocalyptic chiller that proves “it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature." LINK



LOS ANGELES TIMES by Carina Chocano; September 21, 2007

'The Last Winter' Gothic horror rises in the Arctic

Freud described the uncanny as the horror that stems from something that feels familiar and unfamiliar at once, caused by the return of something that was concealed or repressed. It's a feeling that courses through Larry Fessenden's "The Last Winter," which is set and partly shot in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (The rest was shot in Iceland.) It also sums up the plot of the movie, a contemporary gothic thriller about the perils of messing with nature.

The advance team for an oil company waits for temperatures to drop so that it can start drilling in the formerly protected wildernesss preserve, but the weather isn't cooperating and the members are getting cagey. The permafrost is melting, which is making the ice roads unpassable and releasing into the air all kinds of formerly frozen organisms, viruses and -- who knows? -- the ghosts of the fearsome creatures that roamed the Earth until they died and got mulched into fossil fuels.

The movie opens with a corporate propaganda video that explains that a "historic vote in Congress" has allowed North Industries to send an advance team into the wilderness to study the effect of drilling, bringing us one step closer to energy independence. The presentation ends with the Orwellian-sounding motto, "Trust, risk, results," which turns out to double as a to-do list for the apocalypse.

North's advance team members doesn't radiate quite the level of slick and can-do competence of the company's promotional materials, however. In fact, they bear more than a passing resemblance to the scrappy space truckers of the Nostromo. (Fessenden was going for "Alien" and John Carpenter's "The Thing," mood-wise, and mission accomplished.) The camp mechanic, Motor (the lovably off-putting Kevin Corrigan), spends his days in a cloud of pot smoke; cook Dawn (Joanne Shenandoah) serves grotesque slop and devours romance novels; scientist Elliott (Jamie Harrold) pines for home and spends his day writing e-mails to his mother; young Maxwell (Zach Gilford), whose father thought he could put his love of the outdoors to use by drilling for oil in a pristine setting, seems understandably out of sorts; and the mysterious native Alaskan Lee (Pato Hoffman) does little, says less but smiles to himself like someone who knows something.

Parked in the frozen wilderness with nothing to do, the team members begin to sense that something is wrong. Or maybe it's just their guilt bubbling to the surface. Either way, Maxwell becomes increasingly unnerved and James Hoffman (James LeGros), the environmental expert hired by North mainly for PR purposes, spends hours holed up in his shack, meticulously transforming his temperature log into a dark record of his terror and confusion. Their trepidation may be inchoate, but it makes perfect sense. As Maxwell remarks, what is oil but fossils, plants and animals from millions of years ago? Millions of years' worth of buried decay combined with repressed guilt. "Why do we despise the world?" Hoffman writes. "What if the thing we are here to pull out rose up?"

When Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman), the moody, hard-drinking and arrogant team leader, arrives in the camp bearing booze and cheap fiction, he finds that his former lover Abby (Connie Britton) and Hoffman (pun perhaps not intended?) have fallen into a casual relationship built on wary attraction. Hoffman recommends they cancel the project, but Ed charges ahead even after Maxwell, his "charge," wanders off into the night and returns three hours later, transformed.

It's billed as an environmental horror story, but "The Last Winter" bears all the hallmarks of an ever-popular genre that has always pitted science, technology and reason against emotion, awe and nature. It bears all the hallmarks of the gothic: ghosts, death, alienated sexuality, decay, secrets, madness and, of course, awe and trepidation in the face of the sublime power of nature. It also accomplishes with a modest budget and a talented cast what bigger, slicker, gorier contemporary horror movies rarely do. It taps into a collective dread compounded by the guilt of our complicity. The scrappy, familiar banality of Fessenden's vision -- the base camp is a dump, the crew unglamorous, their mission compromised -- only amps up the visceral dread. You know these people wouldn't stand a chance against nature if it decided to fight back against the parasitic virus that's destroying it, and you know you wouldn't, either.

Speaking of things potentially viral, the film is available on demand at the same time it opens in theaters, a strategy that gives a modest movie like "The Last Winter" a better chance of reaching more people. Yes, thawing is bad for the environment. But as far as the film landscape goes, the more stuff bubbles up from the cultural permafrost, the better. LINK





...For now, though, I will focus on the fifth film I saw on that dies mirabilis, because it is one likeliest to have missed the radar of even some of the more discriminating festivalgoers. It’s called The Last Winter, and it’s the latest slice of existential modern horror from writer-director (and sometimes actor) Larry Fessenden. I say latest because, though he is hardly a household name, Fessenden has spent much of the last 15 years putting his richly idiosyncratic and highly political spin on a series of timeless horror-fantasy myths. Indeed, it is often by virtue of what Fessenden does that we come to understand why those age-old scary stories have lost none of their creepy resonance over time. In No Telling (1991), Fessenden used the basic architecture of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a means of weighing in on the debates over animal testing and the morality of science. In the Independent Spirit Award-winning Habit (1997), vampirism stood as a metaphor for dependency — chemical and emotional — and the alienation of modern life in the big city. And in Wendigo (2001) — Fessenden’s best-known film to date — the titular creature may be a werewolf-like Native American spirit, but the real force wreaking havoc on its characters’ lives is the clash between the ancient and the modern, between “civilized” man and his primal, animalistic nature.

These are not traditional monster movies by a long shot. Rather, like George Romero (whose own deconstructionist vampire movie, Martin, predates Habit by two decades), Fessenden is interested most in the collision of real and imagined horrors, and in the human impulse to fashion myths and legends as a way of giving meaning to a fundamentally shapeless world. The Last Winter is certainly no exception — much to the dismay, I suspect, of some of the clearly mystified acquisitions and distributions executives who wandered into the movie’s Toronto press screening, clearly lured by the promises of “ghost story” and “supernatural horror” proffered by the description in the festival catalogue.

Set in remote Alaska, the film concerns an American oil company’s top-secret drilling project, designed to bring “energy independence” to the American people while, quite possibly, wreaking havoc on the delicate environment of the Arctic tundra. Not that such warnings (most of them issued by a visiting scientist played by James Le Gros) do much to deter the drilling team’s blustery leader (an excellent Ron Perlman) from blasting ahead with the project. Until, that is, some unseen, primordial force seems to bubble up from the ground along with that black gold, infecting everyone and everything with which it comes into contact. Could it be the spirit of the Wendigo yet again? Perhaps. But as usual in a Fessenden film, in The Last Winter mankind is its own worst enemy.

Filmed in Iceland in breathtaking 35mm widescreen, The Last Winter is Fessenden’s biggest and most “professional” production to date, but in making that leap, the filmmaker has in no way compromised his artistic integrity. True to form, the movie is more about disquieting mood and serenely creepy atmosphere than about slam-bang action or shock-horror jolts. When people start to die, the survivors don’t run around screaming in a hysterical panic, but rather rationally and intelligently weigh their options. And the final, apocalyptic moments are presented less as a “twist” than as the inevitable. The Last Winter won’t create much “buzz” in the industry press and won’t win many fans among those who place the saving of union jobs above the repairing of the ozone layer. But this is a horror movie with many inconvenient truths to tell about the ways in which we are willingly destroying our planet. Oh, and it’s also scary as fuck. Link



TV GUIDE.COM by Maitland McDonagh /4

Larry Fessenden's quietly unnerving horror picture revolves around an eight-person oil-drilling advance crew stalked by some malevolent, unseen something that lurks in the unbearable whiteness of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Off limits for development until a recent congressional decision, the Wildlife Refuge's oil reserves are largely an unknown quantity: The only effort was ever made to assess the situation was back in 1986, when the Kick Corp sank a test well that was immediately sealed. Now mega-corporation North Industries has established a team in the area and charged gruff, macho company man Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman) with clearing the way to move in heavy drilling equipment. This being the 21st century, the North Industry crew is accompanied by environmental expert James Hoffman (James LeGros) and his assistant, Elliot Taylor (James Harrold), who must assess the impact of the company's plans before construction can proceed. Pollack and Hoffman clash immediately, and not just over their diametrically opposed points of view about wilderness development, the energy crisis and global warming: While Pollack was a away on a five-week trip to corporate headquarters, Hoffman hooked up with Pollack's girl, Abby (Connie Britton). The atmosphere is already explosive when junior team member Maxwell (Zack Gilford) disappears for several hours and returns traumatized by something he can't or won't describe. Isolated and spooked, the team members succumb to a sense of creeping anxiety that turns to paranoia and, inevitably, violence.

Fessenden's claustrophobic thriller, shot in Alaska and Iceland, inevitably recalls antecedents John Carpenters THE THING (1982) , the first-season X-Files episode "Ice" and, of course, ALIEN (1979), with its blue-collar team of working stiffs thrown to the wolves by their uncaring corporate masters. Neither Pollack nor Hoffman is as straightforward a character as he first appears, and the film's escalating anxiety is rooted as much in the characters' subtle, thorny relationships as fear of monsters and madmen. Fessenden consistently ignores contemporary trends in fright films; his brand of horror unfolds at the intersection of myth and modern-day malaise and gets there by way of a slow, excruciating build up rather than a series of short, sharp shocks. And if the film's 11th-hour CGI effects aren't entirely convincing, the notion that oil itself is haunted by the restless spirit of every once-living thing that time reduced and mingled into the earth's black blood throws off a primordial chill. LINK

top - Bill Chambers 9/19/06

Larry Fessenden has always been an artist and a consummate professional, but there's a newfound commercial glaze to The Last Winter--however ironic its use of widescreen--that makes one feel somehow less inclined to coddle it. An ambiguous statement, I know; I guess what I'm saying is that if I have any reservations about the piece (and I had fewer about Wendigo and Habit), I don't really fear seeming anti-intellectual in voicing them. Fessenden's own private The Thing, The Last Winter unfurls at an Alaskan outpost, where the blustery Pollack (Ron Perlman, delivering another perfectly-metered performance) has docked hoping to kick-start stalled plans to drill for oil. He's pitted against environmental scientist Hoffman (James Le Gros), with whom his former girlfriend Abby (the lovely Connie Britton) has fallen into bed, giving Fessenden ample opportunity to exploit the alpha-male subtext of many a red state/blue state conflict. In fact, the Bush/Gore allegory is so compelling in and of itself that, while I wouldn't begrudge the picture its horror elements (Fessenden is the genre fan's salvation, after all), with supernatural as opposed to psychological forces taking out the team, The Last Winter builds to an apocalypse whose nihilism suggests equivocation. Too, the picture is kind of perched, teeter-totter-like, on a shocking Blair Witch set-piece, never to reach its lofty heights again. Still and all, an elegiac piece of filmmaking that transcends cheap thrills in each of its onscreen casualties; I'd love to see Fessenden try his hand at a war movie. Link



Cold Comforts

Horror is the most overburdened genre in existence, weighed down with so much symbolic, political, and sociological portent that it’s a marvel when a film can actually get down to the business of being scary. While unpretentious and well-crafted efforts like Rob Schmidt’s Wrong Turn fall by the wayside, the latest offerings from each newly minted horror “auteur” come with allegory locked firmly in place for critical exegesis, while any actual insight into their ostensible “real” topic is precisely nil. This isn’t to say that horror films are obliged to stay out of the real world and within their own supposed generic boundaries—rather that an attempt to address the real world must be made intrinsic to those boundaries, a part of the film rather than an imposed reading.

Larry Fessenden is a self-confessed horror filmmaker, and not only perhaps the greatest one working today—his potential rivals being Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Bong Joon-ho—but also the most pointedly political, emotionally invested, and unguardedly honest. Unlike his dissembling contemporaries, his films are defiantly about what they are about. Rather than the comfortable “archetypes” with which so many horror faux-teurs skim across any real investment in their material, Fessenden always has an actual subject, whether it’s the self-destruction of addiction in Habit or the familial breakdown of Wendigo, and it’s from these subjects that the atmosphere and fright emanate. Fessenden is not making art movies (or political tracts) in horror-film clothing, but employing the genre to break open the dread at the heart of his subjects, to give their terrifying formlessness a transitory form.

In The Last Winter, his most ambitious and masterful film thus far, he deliberately pushes the capabilities of cinematic representation to incarnate that unimaginable fear. The familiar scenario—an oil-drilling team in Alaska suddenly confronted by strange atmospheric conditions and various ghostly presences circling their camp—and familiar character types—he-man foreman (Ron Perlman), sensitive, bearded scientist (James LeGros), smart and tough woman caught between them (Connie Britton), the grubby, bearded, talkative mechanic, inevitably named Motor (Kevin Corrigan)—promises a better-or-worse rerun of familiar pleasures, with a trendy overlay of environmental doomsaying. But Fessenden continually undercuts both the expected progression of shocks—stifling or cutting short the expectedly scary bits and introducing jagged rhythms and unsettling discrepancies into what should be the rest periods between scares—and the comfy, audience-flattering “higher” thematic content. Fessenden is not praising our sharpness in divining the “real” subject of his film beneath the generic trappings. He is using those trappings to their fullest in order to burst through them, penetrating our distanced genre connoisseurship and striking us at our most naked, vulnerable, fearful point: the very real possibility of human extinction buried beneath the endless “debate” over irreversible ecological breakdown.

This must be made clear: The Last Winter is not an allegory of ecological apocalypse, but an envisioning of it. While its plot outline fits it snugly into the eco-horror/revenge-of-nature subgenre, it allows the audience no distancing from its truly terrifying topic. Hopelessness has been made just another exploitable trope in the horror genre, a cheap shock for the final reel (see the remade Dawn of the Dead or the recent, execrable 28 Weeks Later); for Fessenden, it is the shaping force of his film. Not that he is in any way a nihilist: with his warmly drawn characters, he’s the most humanistic of horror filmmakers, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. The unavoidable fates that befall his characters in The Last Winter are both tragic and deserved. His people are not merely unlucky representatives of humanity arbitrarily chosen for nature’s punishment, they are members of humanity whose own actions and thoughts, however ill- or well-intentioned, have contributed to the destruction being unleashed from within the much-abused earth. And the forms that destruction takes are frightening not only because they are expertly and unnervingly directed by Fessenden, but because they increasingly become disconnected from any discernible “rules”—working within the boundaries of genre, they begin to move beyond the safety afforded the viewer therein. What is inexplicable to the characters should by all rights be explicable to us, but for one of the few times in horror cinema, we are presented with a situation where we honestly don’t know what to expect next. And combined with the gathering portents of a horrible revelation to come, we are faced with a situation both fearful and hopeful: the chance that we might see something genuinely new, a rarity not just for horror cinema but any cinema.

There are thus two levels of suspense created and maintained throughout The Last Winter. The first is Fessenden’s, in his often brilliant command of mood, atmosphere, and timing; the second is ours, as we wonder, hope, that the revelation can possibly equal the masterful build-up Fessenden has given it. To put it simply, it doesn’t. But the gonzo insanity of the last ten minutes, so drastically breaking with the slow, gathering dread that preceded it, almost seems a humble confession on the director’s part: a confession that nothing he puts on the screen could possibly be more frightening than the reality he’s concerned with. The Last Winter ultimately isn’t “satisfying” because there is no real-world satisfaction for what it speaks of. This horror cannot be contained in our stories or our images. It has a logic of its own so alien to ours that even our best attempts to decipher it must fail, and our knowledge be limited to an awareness of its implacable approach. Hoots and jeers might accompany the finale of The Last Winter, but they’re only a coping mechanism for the terrible truth it uncovers—what it knows about that which is impossible to know.Link



CINEMASCOPE - By Adam Nayman

THE BIG CHILL: Larry Fessenden’s The Last Winter

Larry Fessenden’s Wendigo (2001) concludes with a scene in which a small boy faces down a pair of boots left sitting in a hospital corridor. The boots belonged to his father who has just died on the operating table, the victim of a senseless tragedy perpetrated by a stranger; they’ve been absent-mindedly dropped on the ground by his wife whose grief precludes her from noticing her son languishing at the other end of the hallway. As Fessenden cuts between the boy, stock-still and tiny beneath the high ceiling, and the forlorn, abandoned footwear, a plangent visual metaphor emerges: this small child suddenly has some very big shoes to fill.
It’s solemn stuff for a movie named for—and featuring several jarring intrusions by—an ominous bi-pedal Native American deer-spirit. But Fessenden’s cinema is distinguished by the various miraculous equilibriums it sustains, precarious but increasingly sure-footed balancing acts between seemingly exclusive concepts: high-concept and low-budget, abstraction and immediacy, the shopworn and the visionary. No Telling (1991) clumsily but ambitiously re-framed the Frankenstein story through the lens of the animal-rights debate, while Habit (1997) unravelled the bleak tale of a disheveled teetotaler (played by Fessenden himself in a twitchy tour-de-force) whose new girlfriend just might be a vampire. The shoestring tangle of big themes (scientific progress vs. cruelty in No Telling, the monstrousness of addiction and the spectre of AIDS in Habit) and earnest B-movie craftsmanship in these films found refinement in Wendigo, an emotional end-of-childhood narrative (adapted from a short story by Algernon Blackwood) augmented by fluid camerawork, neatly integrated low-fi special-effects, and a fascinating eco-horror subtext—the titular creature as a manifestation of our fragile ecosystem’s wrath.

The wendigo makes a return appearance of sorts in Fessenden’s astonishing new film The Last Winter. While it’s not technically a sequel, there’s little doubt that the malevolent entities menacing the film’s principals—a corporate-backed deep-drilling crew trolling for oil beneath the pristine white expanse of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—share a kinship with said antlered phantom. In both cases, the creatures target human beings who have encroached on and despoiled their turf, but where Wendigo’s monster was ultimately revealed to be a protector of sorts (its lone victim being a remorseless backwoods hunter with human and animal deaths on his conscience), the things that show up in the last movement of The Last Winter boast dauntingly larger—even apocalyptic—appetites.

Like Bong Joon-ho’s marvelous (if more straightforward) The Host, The Last Winter is an environmental horror movie in which our excesses come home to roost: Hell hath no fury like Mother Nature scorned. It begins as a careful inventory of horror-movie clichés (an isolated, fractious group warding off frostbite, paranoia, and possible ghosts; shades of John Carpenter’s version of The Thing [1982] and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining [1980]) and evolves—methodically and brilliantly—into a dead-serious and deeply distressing End of Days saga. The pervasive sense of head-hung melancholy suggests Kurosawa Kiyoshi, except that Fessenden isn’t dealing in technophobic vagaries. The Last Winter addresses issues of global warming and environmental ruin without cloaking them in allegory—it’s hard to imagine a more direct assessment of the horrors that will emerge out of our failed stewardship of the planet.

The gale-force denouement would be irrelevant, however, were the build-up not so expertly handled: Fessenden’s technique, prone previously to fits and starts, has never seemed so assured. As in Wendigo, the director displays a real mastery for wintry environs: the camera swirls around the drillers’ lonely outpost on the same weightless trajectory as the snow itself. Inside, the major personalities are quickly established: Pollack (Ron Perlman) is the team leader, his alpha-male pissing act (he punctuates every other sentence with “goddamnit”) fortified by a bear-like bulk and the lean, hard lines of his face. Next on the food chain is Abby (Connie Britton), Pollack’s unofficial right-hand woman and occasional lover. At the low end of the pecking order—after a few vividly gruff veterans—is Hoffman (James LeGros) a pasty, weak-chinned eco-watchdog who’s come to Alaska to conduct an environmental-impact study.

That’s too many syllables for Pollack, whose rugged-individualist bravado smartly conceals a neutered company man’s lack of imagination. Pollack doesn’t want to hear about Hoffman’s reservations, but when things start going weird—and to Fessenden’s credit, it happens very gradually—there comes a point where he has no choice but to deviate from his rigorous battle plan. The conflicts are myriad: there’s the war of attrition between Pollack and Hoffman; the sexual gamesmanship of Abby (who shacks up with Hoffman on the sly but remains caught between the two men); the crew’s difficulties with their unusually harsh environs; and Hoffman’s frustrating internal conflict. He knows that something is wrong—the weather is out of whack, and seems to be contributing to the mental strife (sleeplessness, hallucinations, somnambulism) of his colleagues—but his inability to articulate this admittedly amorphous threat, or to really stand up to the domineering Hoffman, renders him impotent, frantically scrawling out his fears in a notebook as things fall apart.

There is a point at which The Last Winter shifts from a story about ideological intractability and cold-addled stir-craziness into a genuine genre piece: suffice it to say that it’s one of the scariest scenes in recent memory, possibly the best prepared and delivered shock of Fessenden’s career. And yet the film never loses its grasp on its characters—the groups’ reactions to the escalating strangeness are uncommonly intelligent (Pollack is obstinate, but not stupid, to Perlman’s credit ), and the individuals are differentiated enough that what happens to them matters to us. There are no easy victims in Fessenden’s films; each loss is felt, and felt hard.

It is this quality of feeling that distinguishes The Last Winter not only from the current crop of sado-porn horror films, but from most eco-scare pictures, as well: the gorgeous abstraction of Jennifer Baichwal’s Manufactured Landscapes and the pointed finger-wagging of An Inconvenient Truth are both valid approaches to an unthinkably terrifying subject, but neither film really qualifies as an emotional experience. The Last Winter fairly tingles with empathy—for its autonomous but doomed characters, for the wounded Earth spirits that pursue them, and for our battered, scooped-out planet. Wendigo introduced the idea of a rapacious demon with an insatiable appetite (“The bigger it gets, the hungrier it gets”), hinting that the carnivore in question was, in fact us. The Last Winter confirms this postulation, and without a trace of glib, told-you-so smugness. “We can’t go home again,” reads one of Hoffman’s notebook scribbles. It’s a familiar sentiment, but completely devastating in this particular context: this is a film about the present devouring the future.

There is also a key shot in The Last Winter involving a pair of boots. But where Wendigo (explicitly referenced again in a jaw-dropping late shot of a house far away from the main action) suggested that the shoes, and the attendant responsibilities attached to them, might be capably filled by an approaching successor. This time out, the owner is moving inexorably in the other direction, towards oblivion. It’s bad enough to admit that we’ve burdened the next generation with salvaging the mess we’ve made of our only home; what’s worse—and what The Last Winter, in its towering, inconsolable sadness, understands —is that they might never get the chance to pick up the slack. Link




Seattle International Film Festival recommendations: THE LAST WINTER by Kathleen Murphy

The best horror movies cut deep into inconvenient truths about our unhappy relations with each other - and Mother Nature. In Larry Fessenden's cautionary "The Last Winter," an enclave of entrepreneurs (led by Ron Perlman) and "green" scientists (James Le Gros, Jamie Harrold) scout a remote, undeveloped Alaskan oilfield. Think of "The Thing"'s claustrophobic terror - only here, tension is mined from nature's guerrilla-style assault on the human virus that's infected her. Lack of budget curtails spectacular F/X, but that works to "Winter"'s advantage: Fessenden makes his characters real, poignant, their "haunting" more metaphysical than conventionally monstrous. In vast, inhuman landscapes, waves of ghostly caribou sweep over dark, melting fields of permafrost, eerie harbingers of apocalypse.



DREADCENTRAL by Paul McCannibal

Something strange is happening in the remote arctic plains of Alaska. It seems global warming is doing more than simply melting the glaciers and ice caps – something long frozen into the tundra is being liberated to mankind’s collective detriment. As such, this is a very timely horror film with its ominous metaphorical connection to global warming.

The underlying framework harkens back to The Thing, with its motley crew of oil company workers stationed out in the middle of wintry nowhere, small airplane access only. Their workstation is your standard functional ice station setup, a communal mess hall, an airplane and snowcat hanger and small quarters for the individual men and women working there. All is hunky dory at first as oil-man-in-charge Ed Pollack (Pearlman) arrives with fresh stocks of food, booze, and smokes. But one of his workers, James Hoffman (LeGros) has a hidden agenda – his environmental concerns have brought him here in the guise of an oil worker, when in fact he wants anything but further drilling or development.

Add in the fact that Hoffman’s character is banging Pollack’s on-site former flame and you have a relationship that isn’t exactly what you’d call amicable. Thankfully, Fessenden doesn’t pour on the romance or resort to the clichés of "love conquers all", this dynamic plays out with subtlety and convincing interpersonal tension.

The scary stuff in this story really creeps in gradually – those expecting a sudden horrific alien swarm or terrified flamethrower battles with a giant hulking insectoid beast will likely be disappointed. The terror impetus here is more a force than anything else. It does eventually rear its multiple heads later on in a visually impressive if not overly heart stopping way. But the real enemy is mankind – as the greedy push to suck the land dry gathers more steam, the eerie changes to the collective of psyche of the workers gets more pronounced, and this doesn’t appear to be a strictly localized phenomenon.

Fessenden does a good job of keeping the menace just out of our reach, the performances are great and the visual feel makes the very most out of the minimal aesthetic of the arctic plain. As greater obstacles face our foes, panic sets in effectively, more like how it would actually be than outright sudden hysteria. In a critical bad move by Pollack and Hoffman, they end up stranded miles from the nearest station or northern community, and as they notice the oil leaking from their snowmobiles you get a real sense of dread for their circumstances with only 3 hours of daylight in front them to travel on foot.

But ultimately, even though it’s a well crafted and very well acted film, the end result left me a little cold. Its ambiguity might ratchet up the fear centers in some viewer’s minds, but when it’s this straightforwardly and plausibly presented of a scare tale I prefer to have things wrapped up in a crystal clear manner. And there are some absurd plausibility gaps – I don’t believe, for example, that you can plunge over your head into an arctic stream and dry yourself and your snowsuit off outside with no shelter and a small twig fire.

But it’s still a good movie and worth seeing. Having not seen Wendigo or other films by Larry Fessenden, I’m curious now as he gets a lot of love in the horror scene. If you can see the film with Mr. Fessenden hosting it, go for it – he’s an entertaining fellow with his head screwed on right. I’m giving this 3 daggers out of 5, which definitely would have been 4 had the plot come to a more specific conclusion, but that’s a personal preference more than a slight against the movie. Other people I watched it with didn’t have this qualm. Keep that in mind and if you’re Fessenden fan already then definitely check out The Last Winter. Link



INDIEWIRE by Michael Koresky

No one would mistake Larry Fessenden's independent horror project--encompassing films such as "Habit," "Wendigo," and now "The Last Winter"--as anything other than ambitious; yet this auteur certainly proves divisive among viewers. One needs to slough off expectations of what a "horror film" is supposed to deliver in order to get on his wavelength; naturally many will not be willing to do so, since, like his askew creature-feature "Wendigo," "The Last Winter" moves back and forth between subtle atmospherics and thudding exposition, and teases its audience with scares that often never come. It would be overstating things a bit to say that Fessenden is seriously challenging the rules of horror (there's nothing particularly radical in his narratives), but he does ask his audience to focus on character, environment, and allegory, which make his films somewhat anomalous.

"The Last Winter" uses similar strategies and effects as "Wendigo," but to far more satisfying ends. An eco-horror tale that isn't afraid to promise utter bleakness, Fessenden uses the wintry "Who Goes There?" set-up of John Carpenter's "The Thing" and then supplants its central conceit (outer-space aliens entering the human blood stream) with something far more alienating for being all too close: nature itself enacting blood-thirsty vengeance--more terrifying because it is of this world. "The Last Winter" is more mournful than alarmist in its environmental distress, and ultimately provides a fatalistic contrast to the pervasive "what you can do to help" global warming documentaries: In "The Last Winter," sadly, Fessenden acknowledges not only futility but also awe in the face of imminent catastrophe.

In the pristine blankness of the Northern Alaskan tundra, snow-white yet rapidly melting, a crew is sent to scout for oil resources, led by the blustery Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman), an iron-jawed conservative looking out for corporate interests who's none too pleased by the omnipresence of tagalong environmentalist Hoffman (James LeGros). Fessenden takes way too much time sketching the political and personal differences between Perlman's granite reserve and LeGros's befuddled do-goodism, and at times, the film threatens to crumble under an endless litany of musty macho tete-a-tetes. The film is entirely too masculine, in fact, and the only strong female crew member, Connie Britton's Abby, has slept with both Pollack and Hoffman, which establishes her as little more than a stock device and another reason for the men's bitter disputes.

Yet as often as the film trades in character types, it also neutralizes them by situating them within ambiguous, ruminative spaces. The crew encounters a strong life force (wonderfully captured in camerawork that sails on gusts of wind) that seemingly turns them against themselves and each other, though in always disquietingly melancholy rather than startling ways. So strong is the sense of civil decline within this microcosm that it comes as quite a disappointment when, at his climax, Fessenden resorts to some frightfully unscary "Wendigo"-cribbed tricks. Although it's somewhat unfair to call the director out for simply seeing his vision through to a concrete ending, one still wishes he had trusted the nighttime photography and elegant sound design to carry the film. Yet the film's unspoken central question--did we betray nature or did nature betray us?--is provocative enough to make his missteps vanish like melted footprints in the snow. Link

top Rating: A

You know, it’s not often that a critic gets to watch the birth of a new subgenre. Usually these things only become evident in retrospect. But I think that The Last Winter is in the vanguard of a whole new type of horror picture.

Eco-horror - it’s the coming thing.

Let’s be clear. I don’t mean the old nature-amok subgenre like Grizzly or Piranha where a particular species was selected to be fiercer and/or larger than it is normally and then just set free to rampage across the screen and most of the cast. No, eco-horror is a whole new subgenre that owes as much to An Inconvenient Truth as it does to Jaws or Phase IV.

The Last Winter may or may not be the first eco-horror film, but it’s the first one I have seen. And I would venture to suggest that, unless this particular subgenre turns out to be absolutely fantastic through and through, this will ultimately be regarded as one of the best eco-horror films. Larry Fessenden’s latest film sets the bar very high indeed.
An opening corporate video explains that an attempt to drill an oil well in an Alaskan wildlife reserve many years ago was abandoned, but that now North Oil are back for another try. A small group of men and women are already out in the snowy wilderness, measuring and marking out the area before an ‘ice road’ is constructed to the location. They’re shacked up in a collection of Portakabins and they’re only link to the outside world is a radio telephone and occasional visits from a light aircraft, which drops off team leader Pollack after he has spent five weeks back at company headquarters.

Pollack is played by the world’s busiest actor, Ron Perlman, who is just in everything. I mean, the Inaccurate Movie Database already lists 21 other credits since this! To be fair, that includes four animated Hellboy features, an animated Conan feature, a Hellboy video game etc but still there’s things like Hellboy 2 and The Mutant Chronicles (he was on set when I visited but wasn’t in the mood for interviews alas). I mean: Star Trek: Nemesis, Blade II, Scooby-Doo, Batman, Titan AE, The Outer Limits, I Woke Up Early the Day I Died, City of Lost Children. It’s hard to find something cool this guy hasn’t done in some respect. Hmm, didn’t know he was in Police Academy 7, I must admit...
In opposition to Pollack is Hoffman (James LeGros: Phantasm II, Destiny Turns on the Radio), one of two ecologists or ‘greenies’ which North are required to have on site, monitoring the environmental impact of the work. So immediately there’s conflict - conflict which is not helped by Pollack’s discovery that, while he was back at North HQ, Hoffman has not only joined the team he has also hitched up with Abby (Connie Britton: Spin City, plus recurring roles on The West Wing and 24), a female worker who had previously been keeping Pollack warm at night.

This is conflict which builds. Initially Pollack is welcoming, if naturally wary, and everyone joins in a ‘welcome back’ meal and a game of American football outside on the ice. Pollack is a company man and it would have been very easy to paint him as a bastard, a sort of blue-collar Paul-Reiser-in-Aliens, but he has an agenda based on his own values, his own belief that the fuel reserves as yet untapped in Alaska will make the world a better place, not a worse one.

The rest of the team are interesting but not caricatures and we get to know them slowly over the next 50 minutes or so.

Because it is only halfway through this 101-minute film that anything really scary happens, and then only very, very briefly. That might sound like a long build-up but that’s just what it is: a build-up. The feeling that something is awry up there in the snow increases gradually. The vast expanses can do strange things to a person’s mind, you can see illusions, you can start to feel a little strange.

Odd winds from nowhere, curious feelings, half-seen images - there’s nothing overtly supernatural. In fact everything that happens seems to be natural and perhaps that’s part of the film’s great strength. Because this isn’t a monster movie. The monster, if there is one, is nature itself. Not animals - we never see any animals except a few crows - but the world, the snow, the planet, the ice, the cold air and the Northern Lights. And if it is a monster, it’s Frankenstein’s monster, not in the sense of being man-made but in its pitiful, victimised defence of itself. It’s a monster that can be pushed so far and then must lash out at its attackers.

Describing too much of the plot would spoil a film that I really, really don’t want to spoil for you. But I can say that from the halfway mark, things start to get worse for the team and people start dying. And things get worse and worse and they have so much empty space around them they have nowhere to go. Simmering at the heart of this is the antipathetic relationship between Pollack and Hoffman which never boils over into rage. Towards the end, the two must work together and it would have been easy for the film to fall into a simplistic storyline about people learning to understand other folks’ views - but this never happens. Fessenden’s marvellous script and direction ensures that these characters stay three-dimensional and their relationships remain believable.

The Last Winter is a sort of edgewhere movie, balanced on that precarious border between reality and fantasy. There are parts of the film where it’s clear that what is happening is inside somebody’s head - psychological horror. There are other parts where it seem reasonably clear that some genuine physical phenomenon has occurred, one that should not have done so - supernatural horror. These two elements both contradict and complement each other and a third element is present too: scientific horror. As Hoffman tries to understand why the permafrost is melting, why it’s warm enough in Alaska for rain, the horror of what humanity is doing to the planet - and what the planet may do back - becomes the ultimate driving force behind the film’s emotional push.

Fessenden’s last couple of films, Habit and Wendigo (someone mentions a Wendigo in this one) were written solo but for this script he has teamed up with Robert Leaver, a “New York based writer, poet and teacher” who has two short documentaries to his credit, The Session and Oil and Water (although these are not mention in The Last Winter’s publicity for some reason). Fessenden, whose acting credits include Session 9, The Roost and Cabin Fever 2, has a cameo in an aeroplane on its way to visit the base.
The frankly flawless cast also includes Kevin Corrigan (True Romance, Bad Boys), Jamie Harrold (Erin Brockovich, Kingdom Hospital), Zach Gilford (Rise: Blood Hunter) and Grammy-winning Native American singer-songwriter Joanne Shenandoah. But possibly the finest member of the cast is the location which is as much a character as New York in a Woody Allen movie. Full credit for this has to go to the stunning cinematography of G Magni Agustsson who works wonders with not just the vast, widescreen emptiness but also the lived-in confines of the base.

Agustsson is Icelandic and indeed much of the film was shot in Iceland. Variety actually lists the film as a US-Icelandic co-production and I’m prepared to go along with that unless proven otherwise. Producer Jeffrey Levy-Hinte also produced Wendigo as well as films like Laurel Canyon and Mysterious Skin. Executive producer Sigurjon Sighvatsson’s previous credits include Wild at Heart, In Bed with Madonna, Candyman I and II, Kalifornia, Lord of Illusions and Arlington Road. Stefan Jorgen, who contributed the make-up effects, also did make-up for Lazy Town! Glenn McQuaid provided the visual effects. Douglas Buck (Cutting Moments) shot a Making Of which is sadly missing from the vanilla UK release.

If you want scary monsters and /or gallons of blood and/or a roller-coaster ride then you’re looking at the wrong film. This may be Fessenden’s most accessible film to date but it’s still not obviously commercial (note the lack of attractive young people in the cast, for example). But if you want a powerful, unnerving, original, beautifully constructed slice of disturbing, thought-provoking eco-horror, here it is.

top by Jay Seaver (five of five stars)

SCREENED AT THE 2007 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: It would be completely wrong of me spoil the thing in "The Last Winter" that made me go from thinking it was a nice little "isolated area (and maybe something else) starts messing with people" horror movie to lapping it up like a ten year old boy whose dreams have just been answered. Since I find myself unable to finish writing this until I let it out, allow me one small tease: G____ d________!

It's a slow burn before we get to them. North Industries has just received Congressional approval to start drilling for oil in Alaska; we're ominously informed that an exploratory well was drilled twenty years ago but abandoned. Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman) has just flown out to get things on schedule, only to find his ex-girlfriend Abby Sellers (Connie Britton) sleeping with the head environmental impact monitor, James Hoffman (James LeGros). He's warning of environmental catastrophe, of course, but the rising temperature is making it difficult to build the ice road needed to get equipment out there. Also on the base are Hoffman's assistant Elliot Jenkins (Jamie Harrold), "Motor" the mechanic (Kevin Corrigan), Inuit employees Dawn (Joanne Shenandoah) and Lee (Pato Hoffman), along with Maxwell McKinder (Zach Gilford). Maxwell is starting to get "big-eye" from the endless white landscape anyway, but comes back from a trip to see the old test well even more unsteady.

The first half of the movie is set-up, but writer/director Larry Fessenden spends it more on establishing character relationships than anything else. We get to see which characters get along and which don't, for reasons both personal and political. The opening exposition is a little heavy-handed, but it's the quickest way to get us up to speed on what we need to know without wasting a whole lot of time, and it does kind of prime us to treat it like a horror movie: Aside from the ominous depiction of the station's isolation (which would feel right at home in The Thing), the first half hour could seem like it was laying the groundwork for an "evil ex" movie, an issue-oriented drama, or, (shiver!) some terrible combination of the two. A little foreshadowing that the movie might wind up going in a paranormal direction keeps what happens later from being an unwelcome surprise.

There's an environmental message to the movie, of course, although none of the characters are so crass to suggest that this is what man deserves for attempting to exploit the last pristine place on Earth. Fessenden does make clever use of the "love triangle", though, as Pollack and Hoffman spend a great deal of the movie vying for Abby's support, with Hoffman's romantic ideals pulling her one way while Pollack pulls her the other less through a personal relationship than the fact that he represents her job and other practical things. There are scenes where Pollack literally can't see the things that Hoffman does, and others where we get the impression that Hoffman may be crossing the line from passionate researcher to Gaia-worshiping fanatic. For a movie that does, in a way, boil down to "screwing with mother nature will probably get you killed", it's got a fairly even-handed method of presenting the issue to the audience.

Once things start taking turns for the weird, the movie becomes a lot of fun. Fessenden and his co-writer Robert Leaver have a blast throwing things at the audience with little or no warning; the situation can go from "we're in trouble" to "we're really, really screwed" in a moment. It's not just the danger level that changes, either; the first act gets the audience thinking in terms of this smallish, psychological story, and then, wham!, it's a movie where catastrophic things can happen. Fessenden favors the creepy over the disgusting, although there's a bit of that - ravens apparently find eyeballs delicious, although it's them hanging around and growing in number that is really unnerving. The visual effects are well-done, and the writers show a knack for working in authentic-sounding jargon without making the film incomprehensible. Fessenden also mixes stock footage of oil-related disasters in to highlight what dangerous stuff this is even before the paranormal occurs.

The performances are mostly pretty darn good: Connie Britton's Abby anchors the movie, keeping the other characters from drifting toward extremes, but is capable and relatable in her own right. LeGros hits a nice balance as Hoffman; his tendency toward being sanctimonious plays as a character flaw but not a crippling one. Ron Perlman mostly strikes the right notes as Pollack, although I think both he and the writers have a difficult time making the character a conservative jerk without also making him a total strawman jerk. It's good that they play him more as a guy who worked his way up from actual operations rather than a clueless east-coast exec, so that he has some credibility.

Fessenden doesn't let credibility get in the way of cool too much, though - yeah, he does a good job of making climate change scary without making claims sound wildly exaggerated, but he hasn't just made a message movie - he's made one that has a great deal of dangerous fun with just what depending on oil really is. Link



THE L MAGAZINE By Cullen Gallagher

In The Last Winter, Fessenden’s environmentally conscious supernatural disaster movie, a team of oil specialists are preparing for a drilling site in Alaska when nature seemingly begins to run homicidal. Fessenden imbues the natural-disaster genre with an ambiguity that neither preaches environmental awareness nor contents itself with the spectacle of nature’s special effects-ridden wrath (unlike Twister, Volcano or any of its late-90s brethren). There’s an ethereal evil akin to J-Horror, a mood that spells disaster without actually spelling it out, leaving much interpretation open to the spectator. Fessenden’s previous two films, the vampire story Habit and the wintry, mythological Wendigo, were characterized by strong naturalistic tendencies. The horrors were implicit and stunningly realistic, and the films seemed more character- than genre-studies. Fessenden’s latest, The Last Winter, is decidedly more accessible and mainstream, but it still possesses a fierce realism and intimacy that often lack Hollywood horror flicks. Link




A strange wind sweeps through the warming Alaskan tundra, where a team is toiling to exploit oil resources. As in every good B-horror movie, what is first mistaken for a series of coincidences slowly reveals itself to be the work of a malevolent, shapeless force that transforms this already-conflicted group into a mass of raving, murderous lunatics. As a surveyor (James LeGros) agonizes over this menace — as well as about global warming — the team's leader (Ron Perlman) bucks at any cause that might compromise his business agenda. The Last Winter is a Twin Peaks-esque slash-and-gasher whose true monster is the environmental chaos wreaked by human greed and carelessness. (LR) LINK



Deep-Focus by Bryant Frazer

Low-budget horror auteur Larry Fessenden (Habit, Wendigo) has a truly clever set-up for his latest shiverfest. Climate change is making life difficult for a group of blue-collar types (think Alien and especially The Thing) working to get oil out of the Alaskan wilderness by melting the ice roads and thawing the frozen tundra, making both unsafe for trucks. As the film progresses, the crew is slowly driven insane, either by "sour gas" being released out of the softening ground, or by some kind of vengeful earth-spirit that's been stirred up by exploitation of the area's natural resources. It's a global-warming horror movie.

The low-key production gets a boost from Fessenden's skill working with his lead actors. The typically expert Ron Perlman plays Ed Pollack, a gruff leader who's impatient with the tree-hugging outsider (James LeGros) who's on site to monitor the project's environmental impact (and, not incidentally, to sleep with Pollack's former girlfriend); the story really comes alive after disaster strikes the compound and those two head out on their own to try to summon help. The balance of the picture is suffused with an impressive chilliness, and a few genuinely disturbing images, but the narrative is largely (perhaps deliberately) undeveloped, with the result that much of the violent action feels random and obligatory.

The decision to shoot in Iceland helps give this warm winter a look and feel all its own, but Fessenden's ambition ultimately butts heads with his budget -- especially when he resorts to CG work in the final reels. The Last Winter is an intriguing film, and one that's easy to admire for its use of old-school character development and a small-scale sense of dread, but it never feels fully realized. It's the rare case where I might actually look forward to a more generously budgeted remake. (Upgraded a notch for staying power.) B- LINK



SALON By Andrew O'Hehir LINK

"The Last Winter": Did Dick Cheney's energy task force know about the spectral caribou?

Contemporary American horror movies are so not worth watching, for the most part, that I'm tempted to lavish more praise on Larry Fessenden (maker of 2001's "Wendigo" and the awesome mid-'90s vampire flick "Habit") than I should. But, for crying out loud, at least his pictures are driven by ideas, and he understands that horror stems from accumulated mood and atmosphere, not just scenes of evisceration and decapitation. I don't think the monstrous, goofy Arctic Circle beings who finally show up in the last few minutes of "The Last Winter" provide much of a payoff -- Fessenden seems to suffer from the genre's tendency toward literal-mindedness -- but they didn't ruin this tense and exciting film for me either.

Fessenden began his career as a sort of postmodern prankster (his early films include shorts titled "Jaws," "A Face in the Crowd" and "Chinatown"), and the catholic desire to blend seemingly incompatible elements is the strength of his work. If the frozen, isolated setting of "The Last Winter" -- the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, after a future congressional vote has opened it to oil exploration -- deliberately recalls John Carpenter's "The Thing," Fessenden has also cited Kurosawa's "Dersu Uzala" as an influence. Personally, I'd love to see him channel the Kurosawa-Tarkovsky current more strongly and make the Carpenter-esque horror in his films even more ambiguous or psychological than it is already. But I guess he's too devoted to crass concerns like, you know, actually attracting paying customers. Sellout!

From the opening scene, featuring a bullshit-redolent corporate video from North Industries, the company that has won the government contract to begin ANWR exploration, we know that something is already going wrong at North's lonely Alaska outpost. One of the workers, a wide-eyed post-collegiate kid named Maxwell (Zach Gilford), has begun roaming the empty tundra on his own at night, inadequately dressed, and mumbling about what he sees out there. Hoffman (James LeGros), an environmental activist who's been hired for P.R. purposes, has become convinced that the ANWR ecosystem is melting down: Winter temperatures are well above normal and the permafrost is melting; building the "ice roads" needed to bring in heavy equipment seems impossible.

Project manager Ed Pollack (terrific character actor Ron Perlman) doesn't want to listen to any of Hoffman's left-wing whining, of course. The American people want "energy independence," dammit, and he's there to do their bidding. To make matters worse, Abby (Connie Britton), the tomboyish blond who is Pollack's No. 2, has slid into bed with Hoffman while Pollack (her ex) was away from the station. There's never any doubt where Fessenden's sympathies lie here, but neither of these adversaries is a cardboard cutout. Hoffman can be an arrogant prima donna at times, and as the crew becomes cut off from civilization and beset by one mysterious calamity after another, Pollack has to wrestle between the core ideology that has defined his life so far and the ineffable menace he can see building around them.

Gruesome and terrifying things happen in "The Last Winter," but there's no gratuitous gore or torture, and the film's real power comes from its building sense that something really, really bad is about to happen, not just to this lonely band of oil-field workers but to all of us. The vast and empty tundra, the mysterious decades-old oil well Maxwell can't stay away from and the spectral visions the crew begins to have at night -- all those things feel like symbolic or Jungian keys as much as clues to a literal mystery. As I say, the monster-movie element becomes too literal for my taste by the time Hoffman and Pollack must try to cross the tundra together on foot. But the very last shot of the film is devastating, precisely because Fessenden shows us nothing: a woman standing in a puddle of water, thunderstruck at what is unfolding before her.



NEW YORK POST by V.A. Musetto Rating:

September 19, 2007 -- IT'S not nice to fool Mother Nature, because eventually she's going to get even - good and even. That's the message in "The Last Winter," an environmental horror film by East Village indie auteur Larry Fessenden.

The setting is a pristine area of Alaska, where a corporation called North Industries is preparing to drill for oil.
Corporate loudmouth Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman) is determined to get drilling equipment to his small, snowbound base. But there are obstacles, including environmentalist Hoffman (James LeGros), who has been assigned to the base to keep North Industries honest.

In the process, he beds second-in-command Abby (Connie Britton), who used to bestow her favors on Pollack. (Messy, messy.)
But there are bigger problems. Mother Nature has seemingly gone bonkers. When crew members start to die in unpleasant ways, Hoffman blames a mind-altering "sour gas" unleashed by global warming. Then a small plane crashes into the base, electricity and communications go down, and the crew finds itself cut off from the outside world.
It's difficult to watch "The Last Winter" and not think of the 1951 sci-fi classic "The Thing From Another World," in which an Arctic expedition digs up an alien creature frozen in the ice.

But Fessenden is no copycat. He updates "The Last Winter" to the age of global warming, and throws in a few CGI demons for good measure.The gap-toothed Fessenden is an underrated director ("Habit," "Windigo") and actor (a stalker in the new Jodie Foster thriller, "The Brave One"). "The Last Winter" - which he directed, produced, edited and co-wrote - is his most expansive directorial effort yet. While the slow buildup won't bowl 'em over at suburban multiplexes, the film should please Fessenden's loyal followers and win him new ones. LINK


NEW JERSEY STAR-LEDGER by Stephen Whitty • Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Global chilling
Eco-horror tale short on horror but effectively unsettling

Now that "torture porn" seems to have finally run out of new blood, maybe it's time to re-start another scary-film genre: eco-horror.
Fans with long memories may remember a few Earth-Day oriented pictures back in the '70s, like "Frogs" and "Godzilla Vs. the Smog Monster," "Silent Running" and "Soylent Green." And now that people are talking -- and worrying -- about the environment once more, the time may have come again.

Judging just by the evidence of "The Last Winter," it's a territory worth exploring -- and full of far scarier horrors than the S&M dungeons of "Saw."
"The Last Winter," with a nod to "John Carpenter's The Thing," is set in a remote Alaskan encampment, where big-business apologists and scientific skeptics are quarrelling over a new pipeline project. Admitted, there's a chance to tap into huge reservoirs of oil. But the temperature keeps going up, and so do the tempers. And sometimes, if you listen hard enough, you can almost hear something out there ...

"The Last Winter" was directed by Larry Fessenden, a cult fave who deserves a larger cult, and perhaps some better understanding. Although he's been compared to Carpenter and George Romero, his scares draw more on Val Lewton's old movies, and the regional shivers of August Derleth. Shadowy things hide, just out of sight. Old Inuit legends turn out to be not so legendary at all.

The prognathous Ron Perlman plays the corporate bully while indie regular James Le Gros plays the sensitive, bearded scientist; both are good and immediately believable in their parts. If there's a problem, it's that they're a little too perfectly suited for the roles -- it would have been more interesting to switch casting, and have the hulking Perlman play the eco-warrior, and the soft-spoken Le Gros the stubborn capitalist.

But the two leads are fine, as is the rest of the small cast. The woman who comes between Perlman and Le Gros is nicely sketched out by Connie Britton, who manages to look both attractive and realistically wind-chapped and weary; Kevin Corrigan adds a bit of quirky life as Motor, the base-camp's Mr. Fix-it.

But this is really Fessenden's movie, and as in his previous films -- "Wendigo" was the biggest hit -- he builds the mood slowly. People quarrel, stupidly and for no reason. A character develops a stubborn nosebleed that won't go away. Carefully kept scientific journals dissolve into pages of scribble. Crows appear out of nowhere, and watch, and wait. Shadowy herds stampede by night.

Horror fans drawn in by those Carpenter and Romero comparisons may feel slightly tricked -- "The Last Winter" takes a while to get going, and even when it does, there's little gore. The film's biggest set piece is an airplane crash; the fiends remain resolutely out of view for most of the film. (Which is actually a good thing -- when they do show up, they look a little bit like ghostly Bullwinkles, proving again the old "Curse of the Demon" lesson that it's almost always better not to have a monster you can't afford.)

But even if this is no red-blooded shocker, its unsettling mood lingers long past the final fade-out, hinting at all sorts of retribution just lying in wait for polluters. And suggesting that, if Hollywood stars are truly interested in preaching about the environment, they'd do better to skip some of their rallies and ad campaigns and put their time and talent in a few more films like this. LINK



SCI-FI.COM by Michael Marano • Grade: A

In a kind of clumsy infodump granted via an industrial promo film, we learn that North Industries is going to start drilling for oil in the hitherto-protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. North Industries' team is headed by overbearing macho jerk Pollock (deliciously played as only Perlman can play overbearing macho jerks), who returns to the Arctic Circle after spending time on the laps of the bigwigs at corporate headquarters.
We humans are screwed, no matter how you see things.

Being an overbearing macho jerk, he really can't stand the fact that his girl-pal/co-worker/bed buddy Abby (Britton) has hooked up with "Greenie" ecologist Hoffman (LeGross), who along with his assistant Elliot (Harrold) is tolerated on the site by North Industries only as a kind of PR stunt. He also really can't stand having to deal with "Greenies" at all, who, it must be said, seem annoyingly to go out of their way to wear green throughout the movie.

Things are out of whack in the Arctic. Sort of in the same way that things seem to be out of whack among the team. It's February, but it's not cold enough to build ice roads. The permafrost is melting. A game of touch football on the ice results in an ... oddity ... that might have well-nigh impossible consequences. Bright-eyed kid Maxwell (Friday Night Lights' Gilford) seems to have gone on a fugue-state 330-mile walkabout in a few hours. And giant herds of phantom caribou are heard crashing about in the darkness. All this happens while certain team members seem to be affected by the vast emptiness in a way that mere cabin fever can't explain.

Something is under the ice that is thawing out after millennia. Is it toxic gas? Or something a bit more ethereal ... malignant ... and ... aware?

Fessenden's frigid freak-out

Larry Fessenden is, for a lot of mainstream moviegoers, one of those "Oh ... it's that guy!" actors. He can be seen in a convenience store selling cigars to Sigourney Weaver in Imaginary Heroes, and he can be seen in a convenience store menacing Jodie Foster in The Brave One. He's also one of the most innovative and interesting low-budget (and I mean shake-out-the-sofa-cushions-for-our-lab-fees low-budget) horror filmmakers working today. In the truest sense, he's an auteur; love them or hate them, Fessenden's horror movies—his Frankenstein parable No Telling, his vampire drama Habit and his Wendigo—are visions that only Larry Fessenden could have put on the screen.

The Last Winter is amazing for those familiar with Fessenden's work, in that with this film he has a budget that allowed for location shooting in Iceland and for fancy camerawork and effects. The leap is as dramatic as Lars von Trier doing a Transformers movie. The question arises: Playing in a new budgetary league, is Fessenden still capable of making a movie that is uniquely his? Thankfully, the answer is yes. And on top of that, the movie is damned good in and of itself, not just as a Fessenden breakthrough.

The Last Winter blends science fiction with the supernatural in a way that has rarely worked in films before—what binds these two disparate approaches is Fessenden's sense of the poetic. There is a poetic depiction of catastrophic weather changes that, due to their grim-yet-almost-plausible implications, put to shame those depicted in The Day After Tomorrow. This is followed by depictions of something very old and godlike and angry lurking on the tundra. Bleakness, doom and emptiness allow for this blend of global-warming SF and Arthur Machen-like elder-creepiness. Through Fessenden's eye, the difference between SF and supernatural apocalypse is just a matter of semantics; we humans are screwed, no matter how you see things.

The Last Winter isn't without its faults. At times the characters seem forced into being cardboard-ish tropes, and Fessenden gets a bit preachy with his anti-global-warming message (much in the way he got preachy about the dangers of unregulated genetic experimentation in No Telling). Still, despite these shortcomings, The Last Winter is well worth seeing as one of the smartest and most dreadful (as in "full of dread") horror movies to come along in a while.

Due to the setting and mood of The Last Winter, comparisons to John Carpenter's The Thing are inevitable. There's a different flavor to the doom of The Last Winter, though. —Mike LINK




Moriarty Bundles Up For Fessenden’s THE LAST WINTER And Spins Craig Zobel’s GREAT WORLD OF SOUND!
Have you seen THE BRAVE ONE yet?

If so, you know that scene where Jodie’s in the convenience store with the gun she just bought, and she’s all twitchy ‘cause it’s still new. And while she’s in there, this guy comes in and he’s all hopped up and he argues with the cashier. And then he shoots her. And then Jodie hides. And then she makes a noise. And he goes looking for her. And they sort of cat and mouse it and the music builds and they draw it out and draw it out and they’re right there and BLAM! She shoots him! You know that scene?

Well, the guy she shoots... that’s Larry Fessenden. And, uh, he’s awesome.

He’s one of those guys who’s not just in movies... he’s reeeeeally into movies. He lives and breathes it. He acts for other directors. He self-finances these small indie films. He loans a hand to other people in setting films up. He does it all. He obviously just plain loves it. Has it in his blood. And I think his movies, even when they don’t quite work 100%, have such an obvious voice, such a pure sort of focused pleasure in the craft of filmmaking, that it forgives some of his weaknesses as a writer. I think this film’s about on par with WENDIGO, his 2001 film, which I actually saw before I saw his earlier HABIT, which is pretty raw and great in its own right. I called WENDIGO a “supernatural STRAW DOGS” when I saw it at the Fantasia Festival, and talking with him at that Festival, he seemed to me to be incredibly down to earth and intent on making films he actually wanted to see. There was something almost blue collar about his approach to film, something that reminds me of guys like Fuller or Cassavettes. It’s a job, so do it well.

I was reminded how much I like him when I spent a late night watching THE LAST WINTER this week. Two in the morning, lights out, sound up. This is a damn fine-looking movie. Fessenden’s working in wide wide widescreen scope, and he knows how to use it. His cinematographer here is Magni Agustsson, a native Icelander whose work is striking and moody, always appropriate, essential for the way the film works.

When I spoke to Sean Penn this past week about INTO THE WILD, he talked about Alaska and the things he heard before heading up to shoot there. He talked about being changed by the experience, and how that was what he wanted to capture in his film. These places at the edge of mankind... they should humble you. This planet is so incredibly powerful, and if it wants to, it will shake us all off like fleas. The notion of poking and prodding this planet to the point where it strikes back with whatever means are at its disposal… that’s pretty crazy, but there’s a sick inevitability to it. If you believe that nature adapts, then we’re due for a cataclysmic correction of course in the near future after the way we’ve acted. And THE LAST WINTER takes place at one of those moments, in one of those places where things have worn a little thin, and nature has simply had enough.

It’s a good cast, which allows Fessenden to really push them. Ron Perlman, James LeGros, Connie Britton, Kevin Corrigan, Jamie Harrold, and Zach Gilford all do really strong work, grounding the movie even in the craziest moments. Fessenden only occasionally resorts to what would be described as conventional scares, and even then, he handles them with admirable grace and restraint. It would be very difficult to sit through this entire film without thinking of John Carpenter’s THE THING, but much more of this film is set in bright, blinding daylight. The bleak snowscapes are the same, though, that sense of being completely cut off by both geography and nature. Here, an oil company is behind schedule in establishing a drilling operation, and they send in a specialist (Perlman) to get the project back on-schedule. Without getting into the exact nature of the horror, suffice it to say that bodies start to turn up, and things get very strange very quickly. You could certainly make the case for this being an environmental horror film, as it appears that climate change is responsible for releasing whatever is causing the disturbance among the men and women on Perlman’s team.

There’s one creepy set piece in the middle of the film where they all watch a video of something that happened, and the film builds an unsettling mood that never quite erupts into something concrete. It may frustrate viewers who want a big finish or an easy explanation, but for those who like their horror to play with ideas and embrace the ambiguous, THE LAST WINTER is a small gem. LINK



THE BOSTON GLOBE By Ty Burr, September 28, 2007

Arctic horror film is easy to warm up to
James Le Gros plays a troubled climatologist at an oil company camp in "The Last Winter."

Apparently there is something new under the sun: a psychological global-warming horror film. "The Last Winter" sounds like a genre-movie platypus - a little bit of this, a little piece of that - but it stops short of laying an egg. In fact, it works eerily well. Whatever eldritch filmmaking wavelength actor-turned-director Larry Fessenden is onto, he deserves to be encouraged.

The movie takes place in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, at an oil company test-drilling camp overseen by a macho, insecure corporate cowboy named Pollack (Ron Perlman). While he's been south at headquarters for a month, getting permission to bring in the big rigs, his second-in-command, Abby (Connie Britton), has taken up with Hoffman (James Le Gros), a bearded climatologist the EPA has forced on the project. Pollack hates environmentalists even when they're not in Abby's bed.

A mood of weird and gathering doom is established at the outset, and as "The Last Winter" progresses, it grips tighter and tighter. There's an unseasonable thaw and the permafrost is melting. One of the base personnel, Pollack's young nephew Maxwell (Zach Gilford), is acting increasingly deranged, as though he were seeing things the others can't. Maybe he's the canary in this coal mine; maybe, Hoffman surmises, the melt is releasing toxic fumes that have been locked in the deep freeze for tens of thousands of years.
Or perhaps there's a supernatural explanation - the strength of "The Last Winter" is that it's open to any and all theories. As an actor, Fessenden tends to play wiry little losers (he can be seen as the convenience store robber in the current Jodie Foster thriller "The Brave One"), but as a filmmaker he's got a thing for ancient American ghosts returning with a vengeance. His 2001 film "Wendigo" was about a half-human beast from Native American folklore stalking a family in upstate New York.

There's talk about the Wendigo in "The Last Winter," too, as well as a few sketchy, uncompelling special effects - Fessenden's better at mood than specifics. He gets strong performances from Perlman and Le Gros, though - the former playing a blowhard who slowly caves in, the latter as a rational young progressive terrified of losing his sanity. Rounding out the cast are Kevin Corrigan ("The Departed"), Jamie Harrold, Pato Hoffmann, Joann Shenandoah, and a murder of crows with a taste for red meat.

The ghosts of other movies flit through "The Last Winter," too - 1951's "The Thing From Another World" and its 1982 remake, "The Thing," both of which found dread under the polar ice; "The Shining" with its wintry personality meltdown; the trapped and dwindling cast of "Alien."

Fessenden taps into more recent fears, though, and while the movie's too genre-bound to climb into the cherry-picker with Al Gore, it hints at a coming B-movie apocalypse: a rough beast freed by rising temperatures and only now slouching home. In "The Last Winter," we meet the alien and the alien is us.




Movies about man and nature give us ‘new’ horror

While it’s easy to view the recent spate of save-the-environment documentaries as America’s newest take on the horror genre, I doubt that anyone thinks Al Gore has supplanted Freddy Krueger. The possibility of an incoming apocalypse at the hands of natural disasters is a fearsome conceit, but ponderous environmental discourse leaves little room for formidable scares of the “boo!” variety. However, somebody gets the potential: Similar to the way that the original Godzilla is actually a rumination on the ills of nuclear experimentation, Larry Fessenden’s The Last Winter uses conventional chills to create a surging diatribe on humanity’s willingness to let nature fall into disarray.

Fessenden’s drama takes place at an Alaskan oil reserve, amid stark white landscapes and whispering drafts of frozen air. The characters, of which there are under a dozen, usually speak in hushed tones about the tribulations of their research, although occasionally voices rise to indicate alarm about their increasingly claustrophobic situation (the press notes’ reference to the setting of John Carpenter’s The Thing are apt). The disgruntled team leader (Ron Perlman) frequently bitches about the bureaucracy of their management, but he shrugs off the insistence of a colleague that the environment’s increasing warmth has endangered their research. “Don’t start that global warming shit,” he gripes, giving us the movie’s version of the self-damning declaration, “I’ll be right back,” which horror films often use to foreshadow incoming slaughter.

The unique twist of Winter arrives with the lethal manifestation of that global warming shit but, rather than appearing as melting ice caps and insurmountable tempests akin to The Day After Tomorrow, trouble takes root as a freaky ghost-like presence that rises from the muck of our mistreated planet. Fessenden’s monsters are poorly represented with lo-res CGI, but that’s essentially part of the point. The beasts of global warming don’t have to look real since, in reality, we still have trouble accepting their existence. LINK




Who said that an environmental horror film couldn't be didactic and spooky at the same time? In The Last Winter, Larry Fessenden's B-movie Arctic chiller (it's like the 1951 The Thing with more ethereal demons), life slowly unravels for a team of oil-company workers who are out to establish an Alaskan drilling station. Are the mishaps merely accidents? Or is the tundra, unfrozen by global warming, taking its vengeance? Die-hard greenies may find this as unsettling as it's meant to be. For everyone else, it's closer to an atmospheric act of recycling. B LINK



METRO TIMES DETROIT by Paul Knoll (rating: B+)

Fright movies get a bad rap. It's true that most are garbage; they insult your intelligence and eat time (and money) that you'll never get back. So it's a pleasant surprise when a horror movie rises from nowhere and offers something more. Many of director Larry Fessenden's previous films (including the great Wendigo and Habit) were good examples of smart and well-acted horror that transcended genre trappings. The Last Winter is no exception.

Here, Fessenden mines environmental issues to craft a topical story about a research team in Alaska's Artic National Wildlife Refuge. The team — there to scout oil drilling sites — is leader Ed (Ron Perlman, Hellboy, City of Lost Children), his former lover and second in command Abby (Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights), newbie Maxx (Zach Gilford) and loopy mechanic Motor (Kevin Corrigan, Slums of Beverly Hills, Henry Fool). James (James LeGros, Phantasm II and Zodiac) and Elliot (Jamie Harold, I Shot Andy Warhol) are employees hired to evaluate the ecological impact, and they won't sign off on the necessary paperwork. Ed is a right-wing blowhard under work pressure and he continually spouts off about how he represents the "American people" and their demands for crude oil. He considers James and Elliot nuisances and attempts to bully them in hopes of cutting though so much environmental red tape.

So when Maxx disappears while mapping some territory only to return looking freaked and disoriented, he claims he saw spirits. Most of the staff calls it cabin fever. Desperate and maybe deranged, he heads out to capture what he's seen with a video camera. Maxx is found dead the next morning. But what he caught on video ignites the team's growing paranoia. Strange incidents and deaths ensue, and the team spirals down a horrific path of accusations, violence and retribution.

Nothing in The Last Winter is ever spelled out. It's shot in Iceland on a bleak and foreboding landscape, and the crew's claustrophobia-inducing living quarters go lengths to enhance the film's haunting sense of isolation and tension. The characters struggle between what's supernatural and what's reasonable or rationally explainable. The horror burns-in slowly and is partially built on character conflict, which pays off in some unexpected ways — particularly in the apocalyptic ending that recalls Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Kairo. With a cerebral, multi-themed approach to fright and "Don't fuck with Mother Nature" winks, The Last Winter continues the director's inimitable and narrative-driven approach to horror. LINK



TENNESSEAN by Jason Shawhan

Some might recognize Larry Fessenden as the first person Jodie Foster kills in The Brave One, but for the past 20-odd years, he has been making his own way in film and, in the process, has crafted some of the most interesting and provocative horror films of recent years.

Building on the offbeat promise he showed with 2001's Wendigo, Fessenden has crafted a dangerous film with The Last Winter. Its genre pedigree is spot-on, with an isolated group of workers and scientists, some ethereal and bloody mayhem and the kind of atmospheric dread you don't get from most contemporary horror.

The cast features Ron Perlman (Hellboy) and James LeGros (Phantasm II) as philosophically opposed men battling something unspeakable for their own survival. At the same time, you can read their conflict as a battle for the soul of humanity.

Don't think this is an impenetrable art film, though — far from it. It's got blood and guts and some quite spectacular monsters.

But what makes The Last Winter such a delightful surprise is that it's just as good as an eco-treatise as it is an austere horror film. To put it in "pull quote" terms, The Last Winter does a better job of playing with environmental fear and unease than either An Inconvenient Truth or The 11th Hour, and it has better scares than Resident Evil: Extinction or Rob Zombie's Halloween remake. LINK


PHILADELPHIA CITY PAPER by Cindy Fuchs, Oct 3, 2007 (Recommended)

SNOW WAY OUT: Impending doom weighs heavily on greenie scientist Jim (James Le Gros).

"Alaska, the land of black gold." So named by a promo film for the fictional North Industries, the setting for Larry Fessenden's new eco-horror film is wide, white and windy — and not nearly so willing to give up its riches as North presumes. Combining global warming politics with smartly allusive cinematography The Last Winter isn't so much scary as it is poignant and provocative.

The menace of the Arctic is set up early, and cagily associated with the man who wants most to exploit it. Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman) arrives at the base camp knowing that he's right, his massive, can-do energy contrasted with the implacable snowscape all around him. The weary advance crew is waiting for temperatures to drop in order to begin drilling in a formerly protected wilderness preserve. The unusually warm February has precluded bringing in the necessary equipment. Ed is impatient with such details and starts imagining alternative ways to get the machines moving.

Aside from the weather, Ed's most visible obstacle is Jim (James Le Gros), the "greenie" North has brought in to write a company-friendly "impact statement." Jim submits not only that the project is environmentally unsound, but also that the environment is unsound, or more precisely, "unfamiliar and erratic." But even as rain falls, ice melts and Jim makes a fervent case ("The climate's changing exponentially, it's collapsing"), Ed's focus is on the younger man's affair with Abby (Connie Britton). Even if he knows his own relationship with her wasn't true love, news of their trysting only adds insult to injury.

While the humans roil about, their concerns trivial, the greater plot is indicated by remarkable framing and a pervasive wind on the soundtrack. The literal explanation is corny, if grand: The beastie-ghosts thundering and dissolving in front of the film's designated sensitive "kid," Maxwell (Zach Gilford), appear to be the return of those fossils now destined to be fuel sources. Like other horror movies that filter existentialist fears through the Arctic's isolation (John Carpenter's The Thing being the model), this one emphasizes the effects of vast whiteness on an eroding, increasingly desperate community.

The film is best when it abandons dialogue and leaves the camera to do its very spooky work. Following an impromptu football game Ed organizes on his first night in camp, the individuals retreat to their rooms, the camera peering in their windows one at a time, lurking. When they realize that Maxwell has wandered into the white, the camera actually waits and watches as riders set off on Ski-Doos, their shapes receding until they're almost invisible. The sheer patience of such imagery makes the long shots feel lonely and sad, without emotional payoff or resolution, and it's far more daunting than any ghost. LINK


FEARZONE.COM by Greg Lamberson, Jan 3 2008

Fear Zone's Finest of Fears of 2007: Best Original Film

This year's crop of "original" horror films featured numerals in the titles, like HOSTEL 2 and SAW IV. The Best Horror Film I saw in 2007 was not a sequel, a remake, or an adaptation; it was Larry Fessenden's THE LAST WINTER, starring Ron Perlman, James LeGross, and indie darling Kevin Corrigan.

THE LAST WINTER was produced by Fessenden's Glass Eye Pix company and released by IFC (Indpendent Film Channel)Films. This makes sense, since IFC regularly shows Fessenden's excellent films HABIT and WENDIGO. Unfortunately, this also meant that the filmmaker's newest offering received only a limited theatrical release.

I had planned to review THE LAST WINTER when Fear Zone launched, but someone applying for a reviewer's position offered to do it, and I was swamped, and... one thing didn't lead to another, and a review never appeared. IFC's publicist also proved little help in landing interviews with the film's stars, so we had little to work with as far as promoting the film.

Not any more! THE LAST WINTER should be seen by every serious horror film fan out there. It's a sober, beautifully lensed film with wide open vistas and aerial cinematography that captures frozen desolation even better than JOHN CARPENTER'S THE THING. The similarities don't end there: both films deal with research teams operating in subfreezing temperatures, and THE LAST WINTER perfectly captures the crisp verisimilitude of such 70s films as DELIVERANCE and THE CONVERSATION. THE LAST WINTER is what would be described in literary terms as "quiet horror"--it's about character moments, melancholy, and an almost mythic Otherness, and it harks back to the political and environmental concerns of Fessenden's first feature film, NO TELLING, OR, THE FRANKENSTEIN COMPLEX. When the advance team for an oil company sets up shop in Alaska, there is hell to pay.

Do you complain about the state of horror films today? Do you want to support intelligent, adult material? Then seek this movie out! Don't let it disappear under your radar. It will be available on DVD as a Blockbuster Exclusive (that's a pretty chilling thought right there)in May, 2008, and everywhere else in July. LINK



MONSTERS AND CRITICS by Ron Wilkinson /4

A well done low budget indie production that lets the imagination of the viewers picture how bad it can get when mother earth is finally pushed past the breaking point

It’s payback time in the ANWR as money grubbing oil drillers dig one test well too many. The setting is the pristine wilderness of the Alaska Natural Wildlife Refuge, recently opened for oil exploration by the environmentally-challenged US federal government. But something is not right. Al Gore warned us that thing were heating up, earth-wise, but nobody expected this. Plane crashes, prehistoric alien ghosts, oil drillers burned to death, oil drillers frozen to death and oil drillers just plain scared to death, the hapless crew of the remote outpost runs for their lives. But not before they push Mother Earth past that final tipping point. Some people live and some people die. It’s hard to say which group is better off. In the end only the crows seem to be having a good time. Always adaptable, they survive the most radical changes in environment and feast off the eyes of the once-dominant human race. Thank you, Mr. Hitchcock.

Ron Perlman plays Ed Pollack, alpha oil-boss and ultimate team player fixated with conquering the environment and making oodles of dough-re-me at the same time. If it was up to Ed, he would dispense with the drilling, nuke the earth cover off the oil reserves and collect the caribou steaks for later. Opposing Ed is intellectual environmental watchdog James Hoffman (James LeGros). James has been around the block a few times and wastes only a little time preaching about what the audience already knows: these oil-drillers are messing with Mother Nature and there will be hell to pay. Nonetheless he and Ed mix it up with the standard environment-versus-the-corporation arguments. But the real argument is not who is exploring the ANWR but who is exploring tough and attractive Abby Sellers.

Abby (Connie Britton) is one of the tight-knit outpost crew and she and alpha-oil Ed have passed more than a few arctic nights together in the mummy bag. But there’s a new kid on the block and Mr. Environment Hoffman has started a global warming program of his own while alpha-oil is away. Trouble on the tundra. A grounded and hard-nosed technician not unlike Sigourney Weaver’s classic performance of Ripley in the original “Alien,” when the tough guys around her are losing their minds, she is keeping hers. But it ain’t easy, what with the ice melting out from under her, the planes crashing through the walls and those damn crows pecking at your eyes at every chance. Thanks again, Mr. Hitchcock.

A low budget indie production, “Last Winter” does a lot with virtually no special effects and only one stunt scene that is a cheap plane embedded into a cheap building. Kudos for that. The strength in the film lies in its ability to draw the audience into imagining the horror of the earth spirit gone awry. The film supplies the desolate and threatening white-out conditions that warn the human race to stay away with each howling gust. It supplies the low, rumbling, threatening sound track of ill-defined dissonance broadcasting that something is very wrong. Even worse, something is wrong and we don't know what it is. Tributes to Peter Weir’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and the more recent hand-held indie smash, “Blair Witch Project.”

The sum total of all this is fair acting by the three leads and a very well executed screenwriting and directorial performance by Mssrs. Fessenden and Leaver. Perfect timing in the wake of Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth.” Ironically enough, the freak rain that happens in the middle of the arctic winter, boding ill things to come, actually happened amongst the sub-zero temperatures at the shooting location in Iceland. Are we that far away from climatic Armageddon? As David Suzuki said, “We will not destroy earth, it will survive. But we may well cause such change in the environment that it will no longer support us.”

Learn to talk with crows… LINK




Every once and awhile a film comes along usually under the radar that simply blows you away and can make you once again believe that there is still creative and talented filmmakers out there that aren't interested in giving us another hollow pointless remake. Larry Fessenden's The Last Winter is one of those films. It's easily one of the best films I've seen in the last few years and I would put this film up there with modern classics like The Descent and the low budget gem Shallow Ground. Before I start rambling on about how much I loved this film I'll give you a brief outline of the plot. Now I'm not going to give away to much but if you don't like any plot points revealed then consider this your warning "Spoiler Alert!"

The film is about a group of researchers and drillers that have been hired by an American oil drilling company called KIC. They have sent the group out to a remote outpost in the Northern Artic National Wildlife Refuge. The plan is to study the area and convince the government that drilling in the area will have very little affect on the protected land and to start drilling as soon as possible. It becomes clear very soon though that not everything is exactly right with the group. Not everyone in the group are not on the same page. James Hoffman played by James LeGros wants to shut down the project because of fears of what it will do to the environment and even global warming. On the other side is Ed Pollack played by the great Ron Perlman who is a company man that cares very little for anything besides getting the job at hand completed which just so happens to be starting the drilling. Soon some of the crew start to talk about seeing or hearing strange things outside and the outpost is bombarded by freak weather such as a sudden rain storm. After one of the men is found naked frozen to death out side near a drilling hole the remaining crew members start to fear that there might be a unseen supernatural force trying to kill them.

The film heavily borrows from films like Carpenter's The Thing but only in the aspects of groups of people in secluded areas without any help from the outside world. There are no aliens, serial killers, infections or any of the normal plot devices normally used to create fear in a horror movie. Instead the filmmakers use atmosphere, music, lighting and an overwhelming sense of dread to create a claustrophobic horror film that is one of the most effective I've seen in years. Near the end the force or whatever it is that is killing the crew off one by one is revealed which in most films what is finally shown is almost always a huge let down from all the build up but even with the small budget of the production they still manage to create effects that not only work inside the story but are also original and scary enough that they actually add to the experience of the film. One of the most important pieces of a low budget film that has very little happening in the way of action for large portions of it, is to have strong actors that can carry the film and keep you interested in what will happen to them. The entire cast of this film does just that. None of the cast are one dimensional or cliche and every actor adds human depth to them and makes them that much more believable. The standout performance would have to be Ron Perlman's though. He's performance although rough and very unforgiving also has a vulnerable side to it that I've rarely seen from him.

There was very little gore in the film but when there was it was brutal and surprising because of the realness of the scenes and a few of the more brutal ones even made me cringe. I'm usually not a fan of CGI at all but the rare times that it was used in this film it was done well and not overused. Music was also a high not and at times reminded me of the effectiveness of the score in The Thing. The music and natural sounds weren't overused or used to build up a scene for a jump scare instead it was used to create more of a creepy atmosphere.

The highlight of the film would have to be Larry Fessenden who Acted, Directed, Produced, Edited and Co-wrote the film that delivers an almost perfect horror film. I've only seen this film once but I have a strong feeling that after repeat viewings I think this may be in my top ten. The best way I can describe this film is that it's a quite small film that will draw you in to it in the first few minutes and won't let you go till the haunting end. If your looking for an original effectively scary film then this is the one. The film will finally get a region 1 dvd release on May 20, 08 and I highly recommend everyone goes out and picks up a copy. I know I will.”

Learn to talk with crows… LINK



MOVIESONLINE.CA by Robert Bell /10

A typical virus, like the flu, also known as a sub microorganism, will invade and live off of a host, essentially wreaking havoc on a system, creating a “war” between host and invader. The human body will fight said virus with the immune system. This is apparent when sudden chills, a sore throat, coughs, or sneezing come about. While the immune system will effectively battle the invader, it can often be weakened by this exertion allowing other bacteria to invade the body causing problems like pneumonia.

The idea that the human race is in itself a virus like system, essentially waging war against the planet as it battles back with natural disasters and bacteria of its own, isn’t particularly new. It is however, something that hasn’t been explored a great deal on film. The Last Winter delves into this territory with varying degrees of success. It is a very deliberate, matter-of-fact, and well crafted film that will likely struggle in finding an audience willing to embrace it.

Macho, single-minded, team leader Pollock (Ron Perlman) has returned to his extremely rural Alaskan oil drilling live-work quarters to find things different than when he left. His second-in-command Abby (Connie Britton) is shacking up with the perceived enemy James (James LeGros), a Greenpeace advocate sent up to do an environmental impact study for Public Relations purposes.

As James unearths information about the unusually warm temperatures and possible gases emitting from previously unthawed frost, young intern Maxwell (Zachary Gilford) becomes increasingly detached from the team, staring frequently into the expansive snowy landscape convinced he sees something. His behaviour ultimately presages the peculiarities and freak-outs that the increasingly dwindling team succumbs to.

The human-viral allegory is introduced to the film early on. Using footage of manmade disasters, and Mother Nature’s retaliations, the film sets up a very specific conflict that is paralleled partially by the Pollock-James/Corporate-Environment dualism. The film stays true to this allegory throughout leaving a lasting impression on those who embrace the text. Those who take the film literally will likely be confused by the later outcomes; primarily those involving Wendigo’s, mythically known to symbolize greed and excess with cannibalistic killing in primarily cold regions.

The Last Winter balances this overt allegory with careful detail to character development and believable interaction. Half of the film is dedicated to building up a sense of unease in the claustrophobic environment inhabited by this makeshift family. The dialogue is smooth and natural, while each character progresses realistically with their own arc. The organic flow of each character is never sacrificed for plotting or forced conflict, making the horror element of the film more upsetting than the genre is used to.

While the film would be classified as a horror strictly in the set-up/payoff sense, it doesn’t adhere to any particular expectations or conventions of the genre. Death happens in the film, it exists matter-of-factly, without gratuity or glossing over, leaning towards realistic and upsetting. The loss of life in this movie is felt, and reactions of the remaining survivors are very true.

Writer/Director Larry Fessenden (Habit, Wendigo) has created another intimate and intelligent horror film. He pays great detail to the trajectory of each character, while remaining true to his allegory. The film is well shot, using directorial flourish sparsely and to greater effect as a result.

It’s a shame that horror fans will likely be bored by this film, and that fans of character dramas will be thrown off by the subject matter. The Last Winter is a solid environmental horror film, struggling only in the denouement, which will frustrate audiences watching the film with literal expectations. Link




The Last Winter is a scary addition to the constrained cubbyhole of smart, topical horrors, few of which we’ve seen since 2003’s British shocker 28 Days Later.

Eternity’s a pretty long time. But it quickly becomes an ugly long time when one thinks about how he or she will be spending it (reincarnated, in Heaven or Hell, or in a coffin or an urn). Eternity is so undeniably boundless that the prospect of its endless duration is deeply unsettling (for most people). Nature can have that same uncomforting effect, and, when a motion picture plays off of that effect, the result can be frightening. Take, for example, Antarctica: it’s a place of such magnitude and vacancy that its seemingly illimitable emptiness becomes threatening. There are certain regions of Alaska that have been forsaken as Antarctica has, lifeless and expansive plains of snowy oblivion. One of these massive voids provides the setting for The Last Winter. And director Larry Fessenden films it to terrifying results, creating an atmosphere last matched by John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing (which, by no coincidence, took place in Antarctica).

The Film – Within the Arctic province of Northern Alaska, gruff, hard-shelled Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman) leads an eight-person team of evaluators, which has been sent by the U.S. mainland-based oil company K.I.C. Corporation, whose intent is to survey the Northern Artic National Wildlife Refuge for potential drilling sites. But there’s something in the atmosphere that doesn’t want them there—a “driving force,” one character desperately explains—and its presence is eventually felt by everyone in the group.

When the crew’s youngest member, Maxwell, claims that he saw something out in the snow, then is found dead days later, fear envelopes in his associates, causing them to question their judgment and sanity. And Hoffman (James LeGros), who’s employed by the government rather than K.I.C., to ensure that they’re running things as they said they would, insists that he has the answer: hydrogen sulfide (sour gas), which had been frozen beneath the ice for thousands of years, is being released by the rising Arctic temperatures and, consequently, is causing hallucinations. Fessenden, who co-wrote the script with Robert Leaver, provokes intellectual attentiveness from his audience, who must form their own conclusion as the whether or not the chilling events that transpire in his film are the result of an environmental crisis or a supernatural phenomenon.

The Last Winter is unnerving for reasons beyond that which its horror conventions inspire. Its desolation is a key catalyst in its distribution of apprehension, but, for a more thematic, less cinematic reason, so is its ecological motive, which summons issues that have frequently been pushed aside in the last few years and provides the film an eerie plausibility that is seldom present in today’s scare flicks. Regardless, the movie’s tension would not have coiled as tautly as it did without the keen acuity of Fessenden (whose modest last effort, 2002’s Wendigo, was unable to attain this film’s consistency), who directs it with the awareness and craft of a master, complying only with the viewers’ imagination (and not with the clichéd tactics of suspense horror) to create an overpowering sense of dread (much like, though not as well as, ’99’s The Blair Witch Project).

The performances mold well to the tone of the film, though Perlman’s typecast stubborn badass quickly grows tired and even irritating (there’s no wry humor to level his willful skepticism like in Hellboy). Beyond LeGros’ vacillating protagonist, the only other two characters with prominent screen time are Maxwell, who’s well-played by Zack Gilford (TV’s Friday Night Lights), though he merely lasts thirty minutes, and Abby (Connie Britton), one of the gang’s only two women (the other is the station’s cook, Dawn), who Ed has a thing for but who’s in a relationship with Hoffman. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a standout act from anyone in the film if you go searching, but one isn’t necessary—the film’s about creating a believability that’s real enough to go unnoticed and make its viewers feel uneasy, and it succeeds in both cases, and the cast and their roles are an undeniable reason.

The Extras – On the DVD, viewers are given the option of watching the entire film with director commentary (which could be useful for those who get lost in the story or want to know what Fessenden was thinking when he filmed specific scenes) and watching a short, 5-minute presentation called Behind the Scenes of The Last Winter, though it’s more a series of cast interviews about the film’s subtext and director than a making-of or behind-the-scenes peek. Nonetheless, it’s always interesting to hear the actors’ opinions of a film they’re working on, especially when your own opinion of the film is positive, and those opinions are made clear in the DVD’s additional featurettes. Link




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. Link





IF MAGAZINE by Peter Brown

There is one special feature on the DVD but oh is it a doozy. It is a two-hour long documentary on the making of the film from pillar to post. From the location scouts, to the pre-production shooting and organization, to the production, to the post production, to why things had to get cut out, to an interview with the co-writer and director Larry Fessenden in which he describes not wanting to go mainstream and attending his biggest film festival ever in the Toronto Film Festival, making movies with messages and making a horror movie not in typical Hollywood fashion.

This is a simply awesome documentary as we get all aspects of making the film and what it takes to actually put something like this together. Some of the most interesting portions have to do with working in Iceland, having boats as trailers, filming in the middle of a snow plain, building an actual set in the middle of a frozen wasteland and more.

Worth checking it out regardless of whether you enjoy the movie or not. Link



THE DEADBOLT by Brian Tallerico

The DVD for The Last Winter is remarkable in its special features, especially considering the limited release of the film. I love that a festival hit like this one and a film that, to be fair, had a lot more ardent fans than myself who will be seeking it out on DVD, got such a great home treatment. The "Making-of" documentary about the film is longer than the flick itself and covers every aspect of production from inception through post-production and to a festival interview with Fessenden from last summer. The documentary is overwhelming in its detail, but if you need more, you'll find it in a commentary by Fessenden. In the end, The Last Winter is an original horror movie that swings for the fences. It may eventually go foul, but you have to admire the attempt. Link




Extras Review: The extras include an audio commentary by co-writer/director Larry Fessenden. He talks in great detail about his film, becoming very candid when discussing the tough story choices he was faced with before even going behind the camera.

The only other extra is Making The Last Winter, a massive, two-hour documentary chronicling the making of the movie, from development to post-production. This piece is both informative and a breeze to sit through, despite the long running time.

Extras Grade: B+ Link



VUE WEEKLY by Josef Braun

IFC’s disc features a very worthwhile audio commentary from Fessenden, who’s informative, articulate and even quite funny in a rather dry sort of way. Of the film’s use of archival footage of oil drilling he explains, “It was very important to me to show oil drilling in a movie about oil drilling with no oil drilling.” It’s fun to hear him talk about his excitement over the benefits of working with a larger budget—the many helicopter shots, the dolly set-ups just for little stuff, the birds from Harry Potter, “the real stars of the movie,” Fessenden confesses—as well as with very good actors, and with Iceland, where he actually shot most of The Last Winter. (And it’s funnier still to learn that the groans of desire we hear from LeGros during his off-screen humpy-pumpy were actually taken from a scene in which he’s helping Perlman escape from drowning.) All in all, one can’t help but appreciate what Fessenden is trying to make: a thoughtful, medium-budget movie with indie credibility in a genre overrun with crappy excess. The Last Winter isn’t entirely a triumph in this regard, but it’s close enough to light the hope that Fessenden can keep going in this racket
. Link


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