Nearly a third of the way through First Winter, the de facto leader of a cultish sex-and-yoga-fueled commune is confronted by a disgruntled underling who chides him for using his mystique and supposed survival knowledge to lure his female charges to bed. He in turn accuses his accuser of doing little but taking drugs. Considering that writer-director Benjamin Dickinson had devoted the first 25 minutes of his film chiefly to observing these two perform exactly these activities as they shack up with a small group in an upstate farmhouse, this literalizing comes off as an unnecessarily blunt gesture, one that suggests that the filmmaker doesn't have enough faith in his ambiguity-courting observational approach to let things simply play out. Nor should he, because even when things start to go awry for our group (thanks to jealousy, illness, a dwindling food stock) Dickinson's anti-dramatic methodology proves ill-suited to the task of generating narrative interest. Although he wisely refrains from spelling out the exact postapocalyptic circumstances that have left these people stranded in a rural farmhouse, neither does he turn this nebulousness to any more productive purposes, instead preferring to fill the screen with bearded hipsters luxuriating in candlelit bathtubs or picking through the guts of freshly shot game.
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