Friday, November 13, 2015

THE LAST WINTER (2006) Blu-ray Review

The Last Winter (2006) d. Larry Fessenden (USA)

An unscrupulous American oil company, hell-bent on drilling into the fragile Alaskan tundra, hires renowned environmentalist James Hoffman (James LeGros) to supervise and (hopefully) endorse their efforts. When the "greenie" takes a little long for comfort and profit margins (due to increasingly erratic temperature fluctuations), company man Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman) is dispatched to expedite matters, specifically to get the ice roads approved so that heavy equipment can be brought in. Camp leader Abby Sellers (Connie Britton) is caught in the middle, involved in a romance with Hoffman but intent on getting the project up and running. Just as the imminent war of wills begins its opening salvos, a supernatural presence begins to exert itself over the health and sanity of the various skeleton crew members on site, including resident mechanic Motor (Kevin Corrigan), Pollack's nephew Maxwell (Zach Gilford), cook Joanne (Dawn Russell), go-to guy Lee (Pato Hoffmann), and tech assistant Elliot (Jamie Harrold). Is Nature rebelling against its most potent enemy at long last?

Via his breakout films, Habit and Wendigo, NYC indie director Fessenden fashioned multi-layered characters dealing with supernatural situations... subtly informing viewers what we’re really scared of. In his largest scale effort to date, he approaches a much broader and overtly political canvas (that of global warming). Unfortunately, by placing the fate of the Earth itself center stage, his usually reliable storytelling techniques lose some of their potency.

Teaming up with first-time screenwriter Robert Leaver doesn’t help the cause much either, as the dramatis personae populating the remote Alaskan tundra outpost are thinly drawn – sometimes doggedly so, such as Perlman’s unswervingly villainous oil scout, all gruff and bluster from the get-go. LeGros fares slightly better as the high profile scientist, and his relationship with Britton provides some subtle shading, but the rest of the cast - despite fine work from all involved - function as barely more than plot points.

That said, there is an admirable amount of haunting gloom and dread pervading the entire picture, aided immeasurably by Jeff Grace's score (with additional "ambient music" by Anton Sankow), and when the lights go out and the monsters come – oh yes, there are monsters – the writer/producer/director/editor (who also shows up briefly onscreen as a doomed oil honcho) expertly taps into the isolation and desperation of the human condition. Overall, Last Winter lacks the emotional wallop of previous efforts, but there is no denying Fessenden’s status as the thinking-fan’s horror auteur.

Making its high-def debut as part of Shout! Factory's recent Larry Fessenden Collection box set, and in keeping with its Glass Eye Pix brethren, the Blu-ray is packed with supplemental materials, with the director's informative and candid audio commentary track and the feature-length making-of (helmed by Family Portraits director Douglas Buck) ported over from the original 2008 IFC/Weinstein Company DVD. The obviously liberal-leaning Fessenden is relatively subdued in his political ranting, preferring to let the movie's message speak for itself, although he does point out that he started working on the script back in the late 90s, before An Inconvenient Truth and other higher profile projects were making the case on the national scale.

There's another additional 18 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, including a not-all-that-funny April Fool's prank where Perlman responds to a radio station's joke that the actor will be at the local mall signing copies of the new Hellboy videogame by actually showing up at said mall and acting annoyed at the lack of turnout. Fans of Jim Mickle's Stake Land will be intrigued by the presence of three promotional videos created in support of that film (all helmed by Fessenden), "Origins," "Jebediah," and "Mister."

The extras are capped by another Glass Eye Pix sizzle reel, a music video for "Tired of Killing Myself," and a 2015 interview with the director, conducted via Skype by journalist Adam Nayman that covers the director's career all the way up to his recent SyFy "big fish" movie Beneath (also available from Shout! Factory).

The Last Winter is available now from Shout! Factory (as part of The Larry Fessenden Collection, along with No Telling, Habit, and Wendigo) and can be ordered HERE:


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