The Last Winter (2007)

January 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Horror films are rampant with shallow but still relevant metaphors: a zombie pounding on a mall door is a mindless consumer, a vampire is a power-hungry man. The Last Winter is technically a horror film (if it must have a label), but takes this idea to a new level in an initially subtle film that’s ecologically-minded and in one of the final moments, even poetic. Set almost entirely at a small outpost in Alaska, the film doesn’t have a clear-cut villain as much as the idea that things are off-balance. Maybe climate change and melting permafrost are releasing something we’ve never experienced and weren’t meant to know. Maybe the spirit of the land itself is upset. Maybe the earth is beginning to treat humanity like a virus it needs to fight off.

Directory Larry Fessenden understands that less is more, and sets a remarkably creepy tone using subtlety until the very end, when it finally becomes appropriate to drive his point home. I watched the end twice, for its emotional weight as well as a beautiful, surreal poetic touch involving a character remembering his childhood (though the moment could be taken to represent other things — I won’t explain too much and spoil it).

At first glance, it might seem like an odd choice to make an environmentally themed horror film, but it works well, with a cast of actors that naturally and comfortably handle any explanatory dialogue that might have been awkward. I was already impressed with Fessenden for Habit (1997), a thoughtful vampire film grounded in reality. But this is more than the most relevant horror film ever made, it’s a genre defying film, and remarkably important for giving headlines and warnings that punch-in-the-gut feel they so desperately need. The film was shot partly in Iceland where it rained in the dead of winter, exactly as the characters experience and observe. Personally, that’s enough to give me a chill.

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