last_winter_movie_posterHAPPY HALLOWEEN! Can the threat of cataclysmic climate change due to global warming serve as compelling enough plot line to drive an independent horror film? In the case of Larry Fessenden’s Last Winter, the answer is an unequivocal YIKES!—I mean, YES! The disturbing-yet-entertaining film (the cinema of terror’s ideal mix)—originally released in 2007 and available on video from IFC Films—unfolds not at a haunted house but at a big-oil company camp in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), there thanks to a “historic vote” by Congress that opens up drilling. It doesn’t take long before strange goings are observed around camp, the permafrost begins to melt (and the worry, Is deadly hydrogen sulfide gas being released?) and the two “greenies” hired by big-oil North Industries to do an impact study know they are fighting a losing battle. “People just don’t want to deal with it,” green-cause journalist/scientist James Hoffman says in the film. “It’s tiring.” Not much later: “Something is being unleashed from the softening permafrost”—”This is the last winter. Total collapse. Hope dies.”

Hit the lights, pop the corn and buckle up: it’s time for some first-rate eco-horror, indeed!

LW-FO-PS0176IF THIS ISN’T FRIGHTENING ENOUGH, just wait for the thundering herd of ghost caribou to show up (actually a lot more eerie and effective than it sounds), a circling murder of crows (a bird that figures largely in Native American mythology, and an arresting black-on-white visual for the film), a horrifying plane crash (the mechanical world of man breaks down throughout the film, and always at the most inopportune moments) and what might or might not be the appearance of a Wendigo (an ice-hearted, fast-as-the-wind Native American spirit monster that hungers after human flesh; seek out Margaret Atwood’s essay “Eyes of Blood, Heart of Ice,” which compiles all sorts of chilling Wendigo lore, including how a human can “go Wendigo,” if you desire more about this beastie).

Director, editor and cowriter Fessenden is an indie filmmaker with a penchant for taking horror tropes and turning them on themselves. He’s fiddled with Dr. Frankenstein (No Telling), vampire (Habit) and monster (Wendigo—yes, that critter again) themes and gone places you wouldn’t expect—primarily by mixing intelligent social commentary with complex, interesting characters and then plopping them down in settings unremarkable and commonplace (always sharp contrasts with the goings-on about to ensue); The Last Winter in ANWR (actually lensed in Iceland) perhaps not as much, although a good part of the film takes place in the dull utilitarian camp quarters of North Industries. Thankfully, we’ve got Ron Perlman (“God wants us to drill this stuff!”), a long-suffering Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights), a haunted Zach Gilford (also from TV’s Friday Night Lights), heroic greenie (and indie-film stalwart) James LeGros and always-reliable character actor Kevin Corrigan to keep things lively, that is, before things start getting deadly—remember, this is a horror flick.

LW-FO-S&P0123I don’t want to give any more away, but I will say there’s an ominous sequence rather reminiscent of, to me, one from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice—hey, this global warming/climate change thing needs to be taken seriously; you don’t just shrug your shoulders, walk away and everything’s okay, hunky dory, wheh! it’s only a movie. Can a tiny indie eco-horror flick from a couple years ago help raise a rallying cry, even if only in some small way? I think there’s an audience out there—I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s seen this little gem—and they’re listening, and they’re not entirely passive.

As Gilford’s lost and haunted character, Maxwell McKinder, shares after decrying how fossil fuels are siphoned/ripped from deep beneath the earth, how they’re the ancient remains of plants and animals, that is, ghosts or perhaps vengeful spirits: “WE’RE GRAVE-ROBBERS.” Boy, message received; now there’s a horror-filled thought for you. See The Last Winter, it doesn’t have to be Halloween, and pass it on.

Allen

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