The Last Winter

We saw The Last Winter because it has Ron Perlman in it, and we love Ron Perlman. We were, of course, fully aware of the fact that he has made more than a few bad movies, but the synopsis for this one sounded interesting.

In the Arctic tundra of Northern Alaska, an advance team working for a petroleum exploration company is engaged in a massive project to exploit the oil resources of the pristine land.

After one crewmember is found dead, a disorientation slowly claims the sanity of the other members of the team as each of them succumbs to an unknown fear.

That does sound good, doesn’t it? It’s like The Thing , only with the potential to talk about the political and moral issues involving oil. And, as the official site tells us, that it very high on the film’s list of priorities:

This chilling supernatural drama is the latest offering from Larry Fessenden, an acclaimed director of intimate horror spectacles, whose trilogy of Horror, No Telling, Habit, and Wendigo, tackle themes of contemporary life- environmentalism, addiction, class conflict, aggression, fear and madness.

The Last Winter will be his boldest, most explicit, most challenging film to date, dealing with man’s insatiable quest for oil in the face of environmental revolt.

And that’s where the real trouble begins. See the phrases I put in bold? That’s a summary of everything that’s wrong with the film.

The plot is as follows:

A bunch of people are in Alaska, about to drill for oil in an area that was previously off-limits for such things. The team consists of the Oil People and the Green Dudes. The Green Dudes have been sent to make sure the whole project doesn’t screw up the environment, but the Oil People aren’t listening to them. But even if they did listen, it wouldn’t do them much good, because environmental conditions are deteriorating and Mother Nature is pissed off. In the end they’re all killed by the Ghost Moose of Doom.

There are a number of problems with all this, but first the good points. The movie looks awesome. The landscapes are fantastic, well-shot, and at times genuinely frightening. The actors are all really good, especially Ron Perlman and James LeGros as Main Oil Man and Lead Green Dude respectively. The music is very beautiful, and quite fitting. And the film does achieve some very frightening moments. Before one fully understands what’s going on, that is.

It would all work quite well, if – apart from some minor weaknesses, like the characters being too distant from the audience – the film wasn’t so obviously Green. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m very much in favour of protecting the environment. That position derives both from moral issues and from scientific fact. But the position that this film relentlessly hammers in is not even remotely scientific – it’s all about Mother Nature striking back at us (as if Nature was some kind of active being) and about desecrating the land with our evil civilization. At some point the characters have to choose between going to some other Oil People or to an Inuit village (Noble Savage cliché anyone?) but of course they choose the evil Oil People and then die. We get the impression that had they gone for the Mystic Natives, they might have made it. And the movie culminates in the fact that the creatures responsible for killing the characters are… Ghost Moose! I kid you not. At that point, it becomes entirely impossible to take the film seriously anymore.

The film’s values represent a kind of nihilistic humans-are-bad kind of attitude that I find disgusting, and its theme is being treated in such an obvious in-your-face preachy kind of way that it’s just annoying. And the thing is, I agree that climate change is a problem! I agree (as do all respectable scientists) that climate change is the result of human activities! But all this Mother-Nature-is-angry bullshit just pisses me off.

It would have been perfectly simple to make a horror movie about global warming. The ice is warming up. Evil stuff if coming out. Evil stuff eats our protagonists. Fine, there you go – that would’ve been great. That would’ve been scary. The scariest thing about this film is the people who think that Green is a political attitude. (It’s not. The Green Party? Give me a break. You can’t reduce your philosophy to that one issue. Witness how brilliantly that worked out in Germany. Greens in favour of radioactive weapons! Yay!)

All in all: not bad to watch once. Very well-made. Fails on the philosophy side of things, which isn’t a bad side to fail on. Extra points for trying.