Set at the base camp of a corporate expedition to establish an oil-mining operation in the Alaskan Arctic circle, The Last Winter is one of those ghost stories concerned with an accursed house built atop ancient burial grounds— except here the house is civilization itself, and the angry spirits are those of ancient plants and animals rising from the chthonic sludge of crude oil. Mother Earth taking revenge for a localized intrusion is one way to parse this canny conceptual horror film, and one way to account for what appears to be the rampage of demonic CGI caribou. Another way to see it is as a fable of speculative evolution: This is what happens when our time on the planet is up; this is, literally, the last winter of humankind.
The latest from independent fright-flick auteur Larry Fessenden (Habit, Wendigo) is careful not to explain the exact nature of its mounting crises: strange phenomenon at the horizon, the onset of madness and suicide among the crew, vehicular malfunction, psychological meltdowns, crows pecking the eyes out of nude popsicle corpses. Fessenden executes his ambiguities with great precision of mood and atmosphere, maximizing the unfathomable dimensions of his white-on-white wasteland, the claustrophobic interiors of the base camp, and the perks of a far larger production than he’s accustomed to, milking those helicopter shots for all they’re worth.
Ever a resourceful director of actors, his human touch falters somewhat in the rote psychodrama that pits the ego of a corporate blowhard (Ron Perlman) against the conscience of an environmental consultant (James LeGros), then triangulates the two in a jealous love triangle with a scientist (Connie Britton) of vague motives. But it’s the imaginative background, and Fessenden’s talent at insinuating it into the action, that counts—and unnerves—in this most chilling of global-warming movies.