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Arts & Culture

The Last Winter

A promotional video at the open of

The Last Winter extols the benefits of oil and oil exploration in Alaska's northernmost region. Of course we don't buy a word of it. An oil company's advance team is trying to establish a drilling base in a remote area where it is running into two major problems. First, the company is fighting nature. The weather is not cold enough to make the ice firm enough to move the trucks and heavy equipment in. Second, environmentalist James Hoffman (James LeGros), who's been been hired by the company to give his blessing to the new construction that will forever scar the pristine landscape, is not being cooperative. He senses that something is wrong. There are inexplicable changes in the weather and strange occurrences that Hoffman insists merit further investigation before any work is done. But company man Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman) dismisses Hoffman's concerns. Then one of the team dies under bizarre circumstances, and it's all downhill from there.

Ron Perlman in The Last Winter (Antidote Films)

Fessenden is both an actor and director who's never been able to break out of the lower ranks. As a director, he's worked with promising premises but has been unable to make them pay off. He continues in this vein with The Last Winter. The film hooks you early on with a creepy sense of something mysterious going on out in the dark and cold of the Alaskan wilderness. These early scenes tap into such sci-fi classics as The Thing and such recent works of paranormal/paranoia as The X-Files. There's also a touch of the violent horror of Pitch Black. The mix of science and fantasy teases us but Fessenden doesn't seem to understand that in this sort of tale, less can be more. The more he reveals about the mystery and the more explicit he is in showing us what the unknown terror is, the less he impresses and engages us. In fact, by the final reel, Fessenden's tale is reduced to a laughable monster flick.

The Last Winter (Antidote Films)

The actors try valiantly to make us buy into the increasingly ridiculous story. Perlman (who's been so good in such fantasy as TV's Beauty and the Beast and sci-fi as Hellboy ) blusters and rages as the hard-line, old school oil man but can never turn Pollack into more than a paper thin stereotype. LeGros underplays by contrast and tries to be a reasoned voice for environmental awareness. Everyone else seems little more than fodder for the beast in the darkness, and the characters are so nondescript that you don't really mourn anyone's passing.

The scenes of Alaska's frozen landscape are often beautiful and in at least that respect Fessenden does make us aware of what might be lost if oil companies do get their way and expand drilling in pristine territory.

The Last Winter (unrated but contains some strong language, violence and sexual content) is unlikely to sway anyone's opinion on global warming nor is it likely to win Fessenden any new fans. Maybe Fessenden, who wrote, edited, directed and acted in The Last Winter, should share creative control with others so that he can get some additional feedback so that he might avoid the problems that have plagued his works so far.

Companion viewing: The Thing (especially John Carpenter's version) , 30 Days of Night, Northern Exposure, Silent Running, Pitch Black

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