Wednesday, May 19, 2010

the call of the north

Since I follow Ron Perlman's career with harmless obsession, I saw The Last Winter on his CV when it was still in pre-production. I was delighted to learn that Connie Britton (Tami Taylor!) and Zach Gilford (Matthew Saracen!) were also in the cast. If you don't watch Friday Night Lights, that will mean nothing to you, but it means a whole lot to me. Though the movie was never released in Minneapolis, I read through every review I could find. Though I was intrigued, the reviews were frustratingly vague. Despite everything I'd read, I still couldn't figure out what the movie was actually about.

Here's what I knew: A crew is sent to Northern Alaska to prepare a site for oil drilling. Environmental scientists are also appointed to the team. Conflict appropriately ensues. That much was basic enough. Then members of the team begin to die due to mysterious circumstances. Mysterious circumstances? Like ghosts? Do they go cabin fever and murder each other? Did they unearth some rare zombie infection from beneath the frozen tundra? Is Mother Nature getting pissed off like she did in The Happening? IS IT A WENDIGO?! (I kind of think everything is a wendigo.)

Cut to A Tiny Machine a few years later as she discovers that The Last Winter is available to watch instantly on Netflix. Holla! Even on my little laptop, the cinematography immediately created an atmosphere of urgent loneliness as it swept across the Alaskan tundra. The miles of eerie white blankness were both quietly beautiful and vaguely unsettling. With the ice stretching on forever, the crew's housing was a tiny speck on the landscape. The cramped quarters and the infinite whiteness worked together to build a disturbing sense of claustrophobia. As the team members began to die, the sense of isolation increased to a deafening level.

Throughout the movie, I couldn't help shivering under my blanket. The dialogue was sparse, and director/co-writer/producer Larry Fessenden relied on graceful camerawork to maintain the moody atmosphere. After it ended I felt cold and vaguely unsettled. The story was so quiet and gradual that I didn't notice how completely tense I was until the closing credits drifted onto the screen. Unfortunately, it would be cheap of me to spoil it for you and reveal the crew's antagonist. (Besides, if you really want to know you can look up the summary on wikipedia all on your own.) But I can tell you that The Last Winter is an incredibly well-acted low-budget indie with believable conflict and plenty of moments that will send chills down your spine. It's the thinking woman's horror movie.


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