17 November 2008 | Mean_Joe_Weeks
Good effort undermined by some bad choices
Larry Fessenden's "The Last Winter" is a ambitious and smartly made film. It's photographed beautifully and (by and large) acted with conviction and sensitivity. Though the central conceit about nature "taking revenge" is pretty corny, the atmosphere is also pretty compellingly bleak, and the tension mounts pretty effectively as things go from bad to worse. Sadly, as many other reviewers note, the ending throws it all away in a fit of awful CG monsters.
However, try turning it off right at one hour 27 minutes and 30 seconds. This would have been a solid albeit ambiguous ending; if you must watch further do it on a second viewing and consider it a deleted ending. It's just goofy and pointless, and the final "twist" at the end is telegraphed almost from the very beginning (in fact, one character early on describes aloud exactly what the twist will end up being).
Even without the ending, the script has problems with its petty black-and-white portrayal of heroic environmentalist and selfish oil guy. An ensemble atmosphere pic like this lives and dies on the believability of its characters; Perlman's Ed Pollock is simply too villainous to really be convincing, despite a few nice touches of humanity which Perlman brings to him. Le Gros' Hoffman is also a pretty unengaging hero, a blandly heroic saint of a guy who's always right about everything. I'm a serious environmentalist and a left-leaning guy, but the film's literal take on the situation (the dire warnings of natural disaster, the clear heroes and villains) is shallow at best and preachy and patronizing at the worst. It plays to the most obnoxiously self-congratulatory nature of people concerned with the issues presented here, while at the same time offering nothing of any real substance.
Still, the film itself is a pretty fun watch, and a definite step up from Fessenden's previous effort, the ambitious but amateurish "Wendigo" (the titular spirit of which gets name-checked here too!). Great photography combined with naturalistic acting from the likes of Kevin Corrigan and Zach Gilford do much to sell the vibe of the thing, and the setting and slow escalation of the action also add to the experience. Regardless of its stumbles, the film has loads of ambition to do something substantial and enduring, so even when it can't quite deliver on its promise it still beats the slew of cheap-scare horror remakes which every year become more numerous.