September 27, 2007

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The Last Winter (NR)
An oil company decides to drill in the Arctic, to which the Arctic replies “think again, oil boys” in The Last Winter, a campy but actually chill-inducing horror story.

Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman) works for the oil company North and heads into the frozen wilderness to find out how plans to drill in the Artic National Wildlife Reserve are going. Actually, as it turns out, the wilderness might be desolate up there but it’s not so frozen. James Hoffman (James LeGros), an environmental journalist who is working on the project (to protect the area as best he can, he says; to help the oil company green-wash the project, we think), has deduced that the permafrost is melting and that, as a result, the ground is leaking some kind of “sour gas.” The gas will help speed global warming, he says, but it might be having other effects. One member of the team seems to be going a bit loony, and not just because he’s stuck in a trailer in the middle of nowhere. He’s seeing things, hearing things, and, in a video tape found after he wonders off into the cold, we start to see a little something too. One by one the members of the team feel they aren’t entirely alone in the middle of the top of the
world and, far from wanting to complete their project, most of them just want to get the heck away from all this suspicious ice.

And crows. There are crows, inexplicably, flying around the tundra. Crows are the international movie warning of “Big Creepy Death Ahead,” usually death via pecking. Me, I ever go to some sketchy out-of-the-way place and I see a lone crow, kaawing unnaturally loudly and staring at me, I’m going to get back on the plane/boat/snowmobile and book it. Don’t mess with the crows.

Naturally, none of these characters heed the crowy warnings. They stick it out beyond all reason, particularly Pollack, who spends 50 percent of his screen time saying “God damn it!” with a force and gruffness that would make DeForest Kelley green with envy.

The environmentalists want to study the project more before they let the oil company go forward.

“God damn it!”

The team’s junior member walked 300 miles in the snow and now has the crazy eyes.

“God damn it!”

Hoffman’s sleeping with Pollack’s former girlfriend (Connie Britton).

“God damn it!”

The gruffness, the un-winking campiness, the over-use — the “God damn it!” (pronounced “GOD damnit!” as though the “God” takes great effort to push out of his mouth while the “damn it!” flies fast like a machine-gun-spray) perfectly sums up Pollack as a character, just as Hoffman’s Sierra-Club-hike-leader appearance sums up his. Everybody else is just a walking future victim of the cold, except Britton’s character, who also has the job of stirring up even more animosity between Pollack and Hoffman.

The Last Winter doesn’t pretend to be genius film-making and yet even in its low-budget-ness it has moments of genuine creepiness. Even in the bright light of my living room in the afternoon (which was where I saw this movie), the scenes of a character surrounded by flat cold earth, staring out into the dark at some ominous presence that was felt rather than actually seen, gave me a shiver. Nature turns on the humans who have turned on nature. Sure, this movie takes the extreme supernatural route in developing that concept. But the wildness of nature is just scary enough to make you happy to be several thousands of miles south. B-

Not rated. Directed by Larry Fessenden and written by Fessenden and Robert Leaver, The Last Winter is an hour and 40 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by First Take, IFC Films, and is scheduled to open this Friday at Kendall Square Cinema. The movie also appears in the “IFC in Theaters” option on Comcast On-Demand and costs $5.99.