Monday, October 27, 2014

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: The Last Winter

This is actually Friday night's movie. I'm a bit behind. I have a horror weekend each October where I have friends come over and we play horror games, watch horror movies and eat horror food. Or horrible food, one of those. Anyway, upshot is - I'm behind, hope to get caught up over the next day or so. Meanwhile:

The Last Winter

This is a holdover from the last time we had a DVD subscription on Netflix. I was supposed to get A Cat in the Brain, but that's on a short wait, so they sent this - which has probably been in my DVD queue since it came out.

It was probably the setting that drew me. I'm a sucker for horror movies that are set in the arctic/antarctic or even just during winter. Not sure why - something to do with the alien look and feel to the settings, maybe. Or perhaps it's just that, regardless of what monster or villain is trying to kill the protagonists, mother nature is also waiting her turn to get a knife in.

That Ron Perlman is in it was also a plus. Connie Britton. I like Kevin Corrigan, though it sometimes seems like he's the poor man's Mark Ruffalo.

Gotta be decent with these three in it, right? Right?

I dunno. I think I'd read Dan Simmons' The Terror about the time it came out, so that might have had something to do with it as well. I'm not even sure why I'm trying to track down why I added to my list.

The Medium
DVD from Netflix. Serviceable, but not great. Some extras, including a commentary track. I listened to that a bit, looking for some info on the ending, but it's a bit pompous and boring - at least the section I listened to.

The Movie
The Last Winter is set at some point in the very near future. An oil company has managed to get permission to start a preliminary drilling site in the Antarctic Refuge. The primary setting is a small outpost where the lead team is doing prep work and an impact study. Ed Pollack (Perman) arrives to get things moving so that drilling equipment can come in and they can get started, but things aren't quite right. It's too warm, for one thing. Too warm for the ice roads to be laid down. Hoffman, the lead climate scientist, says that even the permafrost is melting. But Ed isn't willing to take no for an answer, regardless of what dangers may arise from the warming ice.

If it's the middle of arctic winter, shouldn't it be dark like this all the time?

So, decent setup. Your typical isolated base, only reachable by plane. Full of characters broadly drawn and conflicts... also broadly drawn. Hoffman and Pollack are, of course, antagonists. The Company vs the Scientist. (That Hoffman is sleeping with the project head, Abby Sellers (Britton), who had a relationship with Pollack, just adds more friction.) There's obviously something effecting the youngest member of the crew, Maxwell (Zach Gifford), who keeps asking about the capped test well the company made to prove there was oil to be had.

I had high hopes Cthulhu was under this, but no...

There's an art-film feel to things. The music is slow and mostly piano, with a limited number of themes. There's a lot of slow, sweeping pans of desolate arctic landscape that end with the face of someone staring meaningfully into the distance. The director likes to do long, handheld shots following characters in the tight confines of the base (which is really just a bunch of trailers welded together). It's a little flat, a little pat, but there's some gold to be mined out of a climate change horror movie that isn't focused on tornadoes with sharks in them.

Unfortunately, this movie is unfocused and vague. Interesting things are brought up and never fully explored. Maxwell seems to think the capped well is haunted or something, but nothing comes of that. Ravens show up as, maybe, harbingers of something old that's being released from the ice - but they're never used as anything more than set dressing. Maxwell disappears for most of a day and when he returns one of the characters remarks that according to something on his suit (GPS maybe?) he travelled three hundred miles. Everybody looks around meaningfully, but nothing is ever done with that either.

"Hi, I'm a harbinger of... say, are you gonna eat those eyes?"

Weird events start to pile up. It rains in the middle of the arctic winter. Wind storms appear inside research shelters - but not outside. The tracks of a herd of caribou appear from nowhere and go nowhere. A team member has a nose bleed that will not stop. Maxwell disappears and on a video tape he's left some - thing - appears to carry him off. (Nobody reacts to this except Hoffman, so maybe it's supposed to be a hallucination.) Hoffman opines that maybe hydrogen sulfide is seeping out of the ground, causing everyone to have mental issues.

Ghosts reflect infrared. Good to know.

In a briefly glimpsed log entry Hoffman seems to suggest that they've reached a point of runaway climate change. "The Last Winter" may be upon them.

Deaths also pile up. A plane crashes into the camp. Hoffman and Pollack make a last-ditch journey to find help, but there may be something out there in the wastes with them. The spirits of those long dead animals whose corpses make up the oil Pollack is so desperate to get out of the ground? The Wendigo? It's left open for us to decide what really happens. Even a coda with Britton's character in which she wakes up in an abandoned hospital and steps out into a rain soaked parking lot doesn't show or give us any answers.

"Expect departure delays."

To be honest, by then I didn't give a shit. There are a lot of ominous things said in The Last Winter, however it's all presented in such a disjointed fashion that you get the feeling that there's no real coherent vision. That the writer just threw a bunch of terms together and thought they sounded cool.

The whole film is inconsistent. You'll have beautifully framed and photographed shots of desolate landscape and they'll be followed by poorly framed/focused/lit shots of main character interactions. Some of it feels like they gave a camera to a grip and said "you're second unit, give me shots of the kitchen." The acting is low key - too much so. When behavior differences show up they're abrupt and seem to have no organic evolution. People are fine. Then they're crazy. The eerie moments - and there are a few - are placed with little regard to pace or timing. There's really only one good scare, and it should have been followed up on, but is - as a lot of things are in the film - abandoned. As slow as the film is it also feels like it was created by someone with ADD, jumping from one 'cool' idea to the next without building a coherent mood or theme.

"Just stand there until I think of a reason why you're standing there."

The Bottom Line
I really wanted to like this film. It's got some great actors, some good ideas and the occasional eerie moment. Unfortunately the uneven quality just left me feeling annoyed and disappointed. There's a good movie in here somewhere, but I just didn't have the patience to find it. In the end the movie is as ponderous and yet insubstantial as its monster.

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