×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Last Winter

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, which are also their commercial limitations.

With:
With: Ron Perlman, James Le Gros, Connie Britton, Zachary Gilford, Kevin Corrigan, Jamie Harrold, Pato Hoffmann, Joann Shenandoah, Larry Fessenden, Oscar Miller, Halfdan Theodorsson.

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.

The Last Winter

U.S.-Iceland

Production: An Antidote Films production in association with Zik Zak Filmworks. Produced by Larry Fessenden,Jeffrey Levy-Hinte. Executive producers, Jeanne Levy-Church, Sigurjon Sighvatsson. Co-producer, Kristen Kusama. Directed by Larry Fessenden. Screenplay, Fessenden, Robert Leaver.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), G. Magni Agustsson; editor, Fessenden; music, Jeff Grace; ambient score, Anton Sanko; production designer, Halfdan Larus Pedersen; costume designer, Helga Stefansdottir; sound (Dolby), Tom Effinger, Abigail Savage; VFX supervisor, Glenn McQuaid; special makeup FX, Stefan Jorgen Agustsson; assistant directors, Rannveig Jonsdottir, Halfdan Theodorsson; second unit directors, Glenn McQuaid, Thor S. Sigurjonsson, Skuli Fr. Malmquist; casting, Laura Rosenthal. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 14, 2006. Running time: 107 MIN.

With: With: Ron Perlman, James Le Gros, Connie Britton, Zachary Gilford, Kevin Corrigan, Jamie Harrold, Pato Hoffmann, Joann Shenandoah, Larry Fessenden, Oscar Miller, Halfdan Theodorsson.

More Film

  • Best Films of 2018 Variety

    The Best Films of 2018

    Variety chief film critics — and cinema omnivores — Owen Gleiberman and Peter Debruge spend the year devouring everything from superhero movies to subtitled festival gems, which leaves a wealth of exceptional films to savor at year’s end. While “A Star Is Born” scored high with both critics, and “Eighth Grade” and “The Rider” each [...]

  • Peter Debruge Best Films of 2018

    Peter Debruge's 10 Best Films of 2018

    Every so often, Hollywood changes the world, but most of the time, the world changes Hollywood, which adjusts to reflect the innovation happening around it. A year after the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements forced the film industry to confront the sexism baked into the system, we are starting to see progress reflected onscreen and [...]

  • Walt Disney HQ LA

    Disney Sued for Home Video Profits by 'Young Doctors in Love' Writer

    Disney is facing a class-action lawsuit from the screenwriter of the 1982 hospital parody “Young Doctors in Love,” who alleges that the studio has withheld millions in home video revenue. Michael Elias filed the suit on Dec. 6 in Los Angeles Superior Court. His attorney, Neville Johnson, filed similar class-action lawsuits against six other studios [...]

  • Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" and

    Richard E. Grant Makes the Most of His Screen Time

    Richard E. Grant is so memorable in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” that it’s a shock to realize he’s only in a fraction of the film. Fox Searchlight’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”centers on biographer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) when she is broke and desperate, and begins forging celebrity letters. Israel has encounters with multiple [...]

  • Wonder Woman

    Movies Starring Women Outperform Male-Led Titles at Box Office, Study Finds

    Female-led movies outperformed male-led titles at the worldwide box office during the 2014-17 period, a study released Tuesday showed. Creative Artists Agency and technology company Shift7 said that the analysis found that female-led films outperformed male-led films at all budget levels. The study grew out of the Time’s Up movement in a collaboration aiming to [...]

  • Aquaman 2018

    Film Review: 'Aquaman'

    Aquaman isn’t like the other DC Comics superheroes, so it seems only right that his big-screen solo show should have a personality all its own — which, in the hands of “Furious 7” director James Wan, it does. Gone is the Aryan-looking Atlantean in green-and-orange spandex, replaced with a bare-chested Hawaiian super-stud with long, shaggy [...]

  • Issa Rae

    Issa Rae, Columbia Sign Multi-Picture Production Deal Promoting Diverse Screenwriters (EXCLUSIVE)

    Issa Rae’s production company, ColorCreative, has signed a multi-picture production deal with Columbia Pictures. The pact is unique in that under the agreement, ColorCreative will work with and back projects from emerging, diverse screenwriters. The move comes as the entertainment industry is under pressure to develop films and shows that feature underrepresented talent both in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content