*. Set in Alaska but filmed in Iceland. I wonder why. Is it that cheap to film in Iceland? Cheaper than staying at home? I suspect there were tax breaks involved. I mean, North Dakota could have stood in for the generic winter landscape here. It’s not like they were using Iceland’s spectacular natural features for a backdrop, as in Prometheus, Oblivion, and Interstellar.
*. It must have been a hard movie to bring to market, not fitting in any genre basket. It seems to have been promoted as a horror film, with the DVD box announcing “the scariest film of the year.” This it is not. As creator (producer, co-writer, director, editor) Larry Fessenden admits on the commentary track, the death of Maxwell is “the only scare in the movie.” “I guess it’s in the horror genre,” he later adds. “Call it what you will this is what interests me”
*. As much as the setting invites the comparison, this isn’t a film that riffs on Carpenter’s The Thing as much as Black Mountain Side, a later movie very similar to The Last Winter, would. So what is it then that interests Fessenden?
*. The most obvious analog is Peter Weir’s The Last Wave (1977). The title alone is all the hint you need, though Fessenden doesn’t mention Weir’s film once on the commentary. The connection is there in the ecological message, the role of native mythology, and the ambiguously (and curiously anticlimactic) apocalypse suggested in the final shot. Will the world end in fire (melting permafrost and ice caps), or ice?
*. But is this eco-horror? Global warming seems to have been Fessenden’s theme, but I don’t think it’s clearly developed. The ecowarrior Hoffman, for example, is the one who goes nuts, and as Fessenden makes clear what he sees as happening (the revenge of chtonic forces) is a totally subjective vision. So can we say that this is nature fighting back? It’s not like the caribou creatures are mutant bears or a plague of frogs brought about by dumping toxic waste.
*. I liked The Last Winter, but in ways like this I just found it to be not all that well thought out. Take the question of how objective the threat to the station is. Don’t both Maxwell and Hoffman see the same strange ghosts? Could it be sour gas that causes the plane to crash?
*. But then maybe these aren’t important questions. Maybe, like Weir’s movie, it’s meant to be a puzzle without a solution, only an attempt at suggesting a mood of dread or anxiety in the face of forces we can’t understand. If so, I can get behind it. Though I still don’t think it’s fully realized. I mean, paranoia is far more palpable in The Thing, a movie that is also a lot less subtle.
*. Another big theme Fessenden flags is that of nostalgia and homecoming. This is another example, at least for me, of the movie straying off target. Because the base, being so remote, clearly isn’t home to any of the people there, even the natives. And Hoffman’s final moment of vision, reminiscent of the end of Tarkovsky’s Solaris for me, is something we haven’t been prepared for. Has Hoffman seemed like that much of a homebody?
*. It is different. How effective it is, and especially what you think of the ending, will depend on what you decide it was trying to do. That’s the sort of mystery that endears a movie to critics and leaves audiences out in the cold. I don’t think it had much of a release as it seems to have grossed next to nothing. Personally, I thought it needed to be a bit creepier to work. Ron Perlman’s earring really damaged the mood for me. I prefer the atmosphere of Black Mountain Side. But for a movie that presents a personal vision, an exercise in what Fessenden calls his “brand of melancholy horror,” it’s hard to shake.