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The Last Winter

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No Telling, Habit, and Wendigo established Larry Fessenden as the thinking-fan's horror director, by combining supernatural elements with muted character studies that examine what we're really scared of. His films have generally had a political slant too, though never as much as The Last Winter, a low-key shocker about global warming. Ron Perlman plays an Alaskan oil scout whose attempts to bring rigs into a remote tundra outpost are being thwarted by environmental scientist James LeGros and his negative-impact studies, which show a melting permafrost and a possible seepage of "sour gas." Or, as LeGros says after team-member Zach Gilford turns up dead in the snow, "This ground's been frozen for over ten thousand years; we have no idea what's coming out of it!"


Judging by the greenish blur in the corner of a video Gilford shoots before he dies, what's coming is some kind of monster: a vengeful Earth spirit, perhaps, or the writhing embodiment of human arrogance. But it's hard to say for certain, because Fessenden is so reserved in his take on the environmental-disaster genre that he never makes the threat of imminent death and dismemberment unsettling, let alone scary. He's written these characters and their increasingly dire situation as an elaborate metaphor for the debate over climate change—and it's hard to give the lives or deaths of metaphors a visceral impact.

After Gilford dies, and another team member inexplicably bleeds out, LeGros tries to convince his lover Connie Britton that they need to flee, and she replies, "I can't make a run for it based on a hunch." The Last Winter is either aimed at or directly attacking all those head-in-the-sand-ers who refuse to believe there's a problem anywhere, even as the body count mounts. There's definitely something gripping about LeGros' despair when he insists that catastrophe is unavoidable, writing, "There is no way home"—a sentiment mirrored in a lyrical flashback toward the end of the film. But Fessenden too often lets the emotional get snowed under by the theoretical. The Last Winter's heart is in the right place, but it isn't pumping any blood.