Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Last Winter (2007)


Larry Fessenden is an interesting filmmaker. Even though he makes horror movies (Habit, Wendigo) they generally feel like they would rather be politically-themed indie movies, for better and for worse. So at its worst, The Last Winter feels like what would happen if Paul Haggis decided to make a monster movie. It's set in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where Ron Perlman plays a charismatic blowhard determined to make progress in drilling oil wells in the region, despite the objections of the local environmentalist, played by a bearded James LeGros. The movie leaves no doubt that the evil oil man is wrong and the saintly scientist is right about leaving the tundra alone, which drains the movie of much drama. Of course comeuppance comes in the form of ghostly caribou and bizarre weather formations before too long.

Fortunately as the movie goes along, it gets weirder and deeper than the standard eco-horror movie, and the climax broadens out in scope in a nicely ominous way (borrowing the ending of the first Resident Evil). I was skeptical for a long time that the movie was going to do more than just toy with the audience, since there seemed to be a lot of scenes of people talking about how strange everything was without anything really all that strange being visualized. David Cronenberg made artsy horror movies early in his career, too, but he also had enough commercial sense to have a head explode every so often, while Fessenden seems to be uninterested in providing his audience with standard payoffs or to lighten his moods with anything approaching comic relief.

It helps that even though Fessenden's narrative is convoluted and unven, he gets good performances out of his cast, including "Friday Night Lights" costars Connie Britton and Zach Gilford, and he has a feeling for editing, sound design, and music to gloss over the weak spots of the movie with eerie moods.

It also helps that I love movies set in frosty Arctic (or Antarctic) realms. There's something about those vast expanses of snow that hits a nerve with me.

6 comments:

frankbooth said...

Fessenden is definitely a smart, talented guy who's out there doing his own thing. But I kinda see him as the John Sayles of horror -- I admire him and am glad he's working, but I'm not exactly champing at the bit to see his movies.

Wendigo was a good film about childhood, though.

You're gonna see this sooner or later (hint: suddenly, Matt Damon doesn't sound so bad) so here goes:

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/star_trek
_11/news/1675244/

Jeff McMahon said...

Re: Fessenden, I think that's a good analogy, since I see Sayles as a smart guy who's kind of gotten bogged down in his own smartness for the last ten years or so. Not as egregiously bad as Haggis but still a little too condescendingly liberal to really be a great artist.

Re: Star Trek, I've said it before and here it is again, it's going to be Jim Henson's Star Trek babies and will have nothing to do with Gene Roddenberry's vision except the names of the characters. Pandering Hollywood crap.

cjKennedy said...

The isolated arctic milieu was great and I liked Ron Perlman as the tough guy stereotype. I also loved the tone of creeping horror Fessenden developed from the beginning of the film, but the ultimate payoff missed the mark for me. I don't mind a big build up to showing the monster if the monster is worth seeing. That wasn't the case here. For me anyway.

Though I did like the bit at the very very end.

Jeff McMahon said...

(Spoilers)
Since for so much of the movie Fessenden seemed to insist on not showing the monster at all, and hinting strongly that there might not even be a monster, but just 'sour gas', the final payoff of what we got - even though it wasn't really as established as it should have been - was still a welcome development.

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