Last Winter, The (2006)

The Last Winter (2006)

What if mankind only had one season left on Earth?

A group of oil workers and environmentalists head up an advanced team sent in by an oil company to the Arctic to prepare for future drilling operations. They find that global warming has started to melt the ice’s permafrost and they don’t realise that with the melting ice, an ancient evil is being released into the world. An ancient evil that is ready to take its revenge against humanity for it’s destruction of the environment.

 

Slightly pretentious, overly preachy and clearly thinking it’s the bees knees of supernatural thrillers, The Last Winter has been built up as the “scariest film in years” which is the go-to tag line that every mainstream American horror film slaps across it’s poster as soon as someone mentions the phrase. However taking a few steps back and distancing oneself from the hype, this is a solid chiller which creates the perfect set-up for something good to happen but fails to make anything materialise. It’s a criminal waste. I’m not a big fan of people using horror films as tools for addressing concerns in society – I just want the pants scared off me. I don’t care for ‘hidden messages’ or moral agendas

The Last Winter is a slow burner and I just wish a little more had been made of everything when it’s all said and done. The film uses its isolated Alaskan setting to its advantage, setting the situation as bleak and hopeless and director Larry Fessenden manages to create a truly creepy atmosphere. It’s got a vibe of The Thing about it where not only do the characters have to contend with something sinister and their own degenerating mindsets but also against the snow and freezing temperatures as well. Even when crazy things aren’t happening, you still feel uncomfortable and unsettled.

Unfortunately that’s about where the comparisons end. The characters do a lot of squabbling amongst each other but there’s not really a lot of tension or atmosphere created apart from the film’s overall doom-and-gloom feel which is mainly due to the setting than anything else. Fessenden wants the human drama to come first here and he gets his way, taking time to develop them all and set them up for a fall later on. This fall never fully materialises though and, despite a shocking ‘end-of-world’ scenario ending and a rather ominous scene in which footage from a video camera is reviewed to see what happened in the snow, the film fails to deliver much in the way of true thrills. The script seems unsure of just what this ‘ancient evil’ force is meant to be and that message is plain to see. As the cast slowly start to go insane, we’re left wondering whether it is Mother Nature herself or some mythical being known as the Wendigo that is offing the cast one-by-one. The poorly rendered CGI finale with a stampede of Wendigo is disappointingly underwhelming. Larry Fessenden must have some Wendigo fetish as he also directed the bizarre Wendigo. Maybe he should ditch the fetish and try something else as there are other things out there he can use.

The idea of nature retaliating against humanity for crimes against it has always been popular – you’ve only got to look back to the 50s to see a slew of films featuring monsters brought to life by nuclear testing or even recently with genetically-enhanced creatures of destruction ready to punish man for tinkering with their genetic make-up. Having global warming become a new reason for nature to strike back could catch on.

As I’ve already touched upon, the cinematography is awesome because of its uncanny ability to instil dread into anyone. The film makes sure you realise that these characters are isolated with some awe-inspiring shots of the wintry landscape (Iceland doubling beautifully for the Artic). There’s little in the way of music and instead the natural sounds of the wind blowing across the icy wilderness are enough to make you shiver in the house. The sheer vastness of the white landscape is enough to make anyone worry about just what may be lurking underneath that has been frozen for years.

One man who hasn’t been frozen for years is Ron Perlman. He’s a very busy actor, sandwiching his big screen roles with plenty of low budget stuff to keep the bills ticking over. He’s the only major name in the cast but he’s one of those actors that don’t just swallow up the screen time by his self and he manages to lift those around him too. Granted he is the best actor on display by far but you never really think of him as the only person in there to have done something worthwhile. He blends in with the cast to become a ‘normal guy’ and makes you forget that he was Hellboy. There are a few good exchanges between him and James LeGros as opposite sides of the global warming spectrum butt heads.

 

Snow-bound horror films always get the nod where I am concerned but if you go into The Last Winter expecting to be blown away with gore and carnage, then you’ve come to the wrong place. Slow, steady and creepy, this is one of those films that you’ll wish it was better than it actually is.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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