The Last Winter

The Last Winter
2006, 101 mins, USA/Iceland, NR
Director: Larry Fessenden
Screenwriter: Larry Fessenden
There aren’t too many supernatural thrillers set among the beautiful but intimidating frozen lands of the Great Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, the location of both potential oilfields and serious political contention about extracting the oil versus preserving the Refuge.
And while many thrillers make occasional gestures to political realities and cultural trends–see any catastrophe film about floods or global warming–The Last Winter may be the only film that suggests caulking our windows or walking to the neighborhood store are much preferable approaches to the Peak Oil crisis than having to deal with CHUD-like, pissed off, ghostly caribous. (At least that’s what they look like to me singularly; as a herd, the ghosts gallop across the screen like their magnificent brothers and sisters.)

Despite the thawing of the permafrost and a history of at least one failed (and secret) attempt to tap Refuge oil, a team of oil scientists and wildcatters from the fictional company North Industries seem to be set on excavating the oil. For better back story than the film provides consult the docs (Baked Alaska or Oil on Ice) that inform us of a split between two Native American peoples in the region: the Inupit of Kaktovik favor oil extraction because it will lead to jobs, while the Gwich’in or the Caribou People oppose it because of the danger it poses to their sacred animal (and source of food), the caribou.

Needless to say the Caribou People have some powerful magic in their corner. In addition to really vicious and vengeful spirits, they also understand the weather better: the only Caribou person we meet at the North Industries facility informs her workmates that the weird weather pattern is not simply the result of global warming but … then she gets mysteriously silent. Cue caribou hoofbeats.

North Industries is so confident of their progress that they have invited some green monitors, one of whom shows clips featuring the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Kuwaiti War oil fires (“utilizing clips from Werner Herzog’s Lessons of Darkness,” according to Variety). It’s just like an environmentalist to be a cineaste.

References:

Harvey, Dennis. The Last Winter. Variety, 19 Sept. 2006. Although reviewer worries that for “horror fans” the finale is not “ghastly,” he concludes that the film “succeeds precisely where most contempo horror films cut corners, in creating credible characters whose fate we come to dread amidst situations that reel out of control degree by methodical degree.”

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