It is only natural that out of the current political climate of buzz words and fought-over science a new niche would evolve; eco-horror. Not too much of it has hit film yet, but mark my words; it will. Unfortunately for director Larry Fessenden, THE LAST WINTER is not quite the sub-genre usher he wishes it were.
An oil company has its sights on furnishing US energy independence by way of tapping the Northern Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Said corporation populates a remote post with a skeleton crew to assess the viability of the environment. The mission soon drifts to the wayside as the corporate team, spearheaded by Ron Perlman(!), and the Gov’ey environmentalists tagged to the project experience symptoms of insanity linked to the location and the intrusive research being performed on ‘ole ma’ nature.
Fessenden scores with his cast, which in addition to the Perlman factor, features Kevin Corrigan, Connie Britton, and Zach Gilford, each bringing an identifiable spark to the material. He scores a great setting and a cinematographer who knows how to hide a tiny budget (though I don’t believe IMDb’s estimate of only $50k for a second). But he falls flat as a storyteller, crippling THE LAST WINTER with minimal story to tell and no decisive method with which to tell it. The yield is a theoretically interesting film that never connects with the viewer. Fessenden’s script suffers the fate of one or two of its characters. A direction and heading for the goal in sight, but no viable method of getting there.
The odd thing about THE LAST WINTER is not its shoddy navigational skills as a narrative, but the fact that despite its flaws it still never met up with me. Many of my favorite ingredients are there, just no recipe to cook ’em all up: The arctic, Ron Perlman, scientists, isolated research lab, nature going crazy, competent actors, solid camera work, an object at the epicenter of the madness, and old fashioned WTF moments. The problem is, there are perhaps too many of the latter. I found myself on more than one occasion leaning a little closer to the screen. Not in the glorious way a great film sucks you physically towards the edge of your seat, but in a baffled researcher way, as if getting closer to the screen would somehow bring things into focus.
Odder still is the confident praise the flick has gotten despite it still being well under the radar. I hadn’t even heard of the picture until it was recommended in my Help Wanted post, but it is sitting pretty on Rotten Tomatoes with a 78% fresh. Even the poster has a prominent endorsement from Guillermo Del Toro, heralding Larry Fessenden as, “one of the most original voices to emerge in the horror field.” While I’m not one to take the consensus of others as gospel, there are times when I personally never hook up with a filmmaker. In such a case nothing strikes me about the film one way or another. No glaring flaws leap off the screen, no come hither stare, either. Just me and a movie existing at the same time, wholly indifferent to each other.
It is because I can acknowledge times like this that I won’t simply write off THE LAST WINTER as a bad flick. Other people like it, you may too. It is intriguing, I’ll give it that. I’m also intrigued by the load bearing structural weave of cardboard. So, yeah, intrigue isn’t correlated to lasting interest in my book. I don’t stay awake at night pondering cardboard, nor will I lose any sleep thinking about THE LAST WINTER.