Friday, August 22, 2008

THE LAST WINTER (Larry Fessenden, 2006, USA) A prescient tale of an American Oil Company literally raping the virgin land by drilling into the soft unspoiled tundra in order to satisfy consumer gluttony and fuel our excessive vices. But this time, the land strikes back! Although this film is ripe with interesting ideas, director Larry Fessenden fails to navigate the pitfalls of the horror genre. He delivers a mundane, often uninteresting narrative with stock characters whose weak stilted dialogue is unconvincing and whose actions border on the absurd. He neglects to breathe life into the majestically bleak environment whose boundaries seem to reach to the end of the world: there are shades of Herzog lingering at the frame’s periphery. It would have been fascinating to see these people set against such a breathtaking diorama, tiny and indistinct creatures carrying the disease of humanity. Fessenden also fails to capture the interior claustrophobia, both physically (in the small housing pods) and psychologically (is it all in their minds?). Company man Ed Pollack and environmentalist James Hoffman are the writer’s tools to debate the impact of global warming and need to protect our natural resources from extinction. We are not given a subjective empathetic viewpoint in which to understand the story; we are allowed intimacy with Pollack but he’s a total jerk; we peer into Hoffman’s psyche but he’s one dimensional and undefined. The others are just fodder for suspense. The idea of a sour gas, the mind-altering stench of decomposition rising from the thawing tundra is truly effective and chilling. Unfortunately, the director chooses to follow a contrived revelation and explain the haunting with a ubiquitous ghost story…a Wendigo spirit seeking revenge. It’s truly an anti-climax. We know this resolves the plot’s ambiguity because the subjective viewpoint shifts to these creatures; we see from their eyes. A quick cut to an omniscient objective angle as they devour their prey gives body to these diaphanous dinosaurs. I particularly like the eerie ravens, reminiscent of Hugin and Munin whispering news of Ragnarok to their master Odin. The ending alludes to this final battle but its old news: we’ve heard that sound byte before. (C-)

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