The Last Winter (2006)

*. 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.

25 thoughts on “The Last Winter (2006)

    1. Alex Good

      It was actually a big thing in the ’70s with the rise of the modern environmental movement. Today the driver is less pollution than apocalyptic scenarios revolving around climate change. Which are more spectacular, but not as scary on a gut level.

      1. Over-The-Shoulder

        For me, those sort of horrors just aren’t scary. Scary horrors are when you dig deep into the human psyche, and set them around incredibly creepy people. Thrillers are scarier than horrors.

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Yes, but there’s a lot of crossover. This movie or Black Mountain Side may have monsters, but they may be psychological horror too with the characters only imagining things.

      3. Over-The-Shoulder

        Now, psychological horrors? That’s a different story. I do love them: The Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, The Shining – those are some of the greatest films ever made, but I sort of tie them together with thrillers.

    1. Alex Good

      There are places you can look online, like Box Office Mojo, etc. I wrote this a while back so I don’t know where I looked. On Wikipedia it says a budget of $7 million and box office of $97,522. I’m sure it didn’t have a wide release, but that sounds like it lost money.

      1. tensecondsfromnow

        Right. As a film-maker, I don’t see much relevance/correlation between a film’s box office take and whether it makes a profit or not; two quite different things….

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Not sure. Box office (if you include things like DVD sales and streaming revenue as “box office”) is relevant because that’s part of calculating the return on investment. Now I used to know filmmakers who honestly didn’t care whether their movies made any money because they were just using the production as a tax write-off, but that’s something different. Did you just mean box office restricted to theatrical release? That may not be a big deal for some movies. But I don’t know where else a movie like this would make much money.

      3. tensecondsfromnow

        Every movie can be sold for licencing for DVD, TV, streaming, and that deal can be different in every country of the world. And bear in mind that the majority of any film’s box office doesn’t go to the film-makers; the cinema chain and the distrubutors regularly take two thirds plus, so exhibition is really just an advert for the product on sell-thru. Box office isn’t even a reliable rule of thunb.

      4. Alex Good Post author

        Not all box office goes to the filmmaker, but the money they do get (on its opening run) is a cut of that pie. I’m guessing in this case secondary rights might have been sold in advance so whatever the theatrical release numbers were might not have had any impact on that. I don’t know how much money is being made out of streaming by filmmakers. Is it a lot? Maybe enough for really low-budget movies to make money. That’s something we’ll be hearing a lot more about as the cinemas stay closed.

      5. tensecondsfromnow

        Right, so I could four wall my movie for three weeks in LA, generate $70k and only keep $10k. But if I then sell the film for licencing to 50 countries for $50k each, I’m rolling in money. But the balance sheet says I only made $70k, which is a number that has little to do with actual profit or loss.

      6. Alex Good Post author

        I would include all the income generated by the film in its balance sheet. I mean, those people in the fifty different countries aren’t giving you paper bags filled with cash are they Eddie?
        I still don’t know how many movies, or what kinds of movies (in what budget range) this works for. The low-budget filmmakers I know can make money out of movies that cost around a million to produce. But beyond that, I don’t know if streaming pays (the DVD market is dying).

      7. tensecondsfromnow

        Right, so these balance sheets on imdb are voluntary, as are the budget estimates. Licencing is how films make money, and the public have no way of estimating how much money a film actually makes. Unless you have access to a secret licencing top 20.

      8. Alex Good Post author

        Even before the rise of streaming “Hollywood accounting” was legendary for being totally opaque. There have been whole books written about how even the most profitable movies of all time were turned into money-losers for various purposes (like shafting actors who only had dibs on the net).

      9. tensecondsfromnow

        Right, and money gets moved more creatively than the movie is imagined. Every movie has a different deal, is my point, and box-office figures, particularly small ones, don’t tell the whole story.

      10. Alex Good Post author

        And I don’t know what the deals were for the secondary market here. But all I said (to be fair to myself) is that I didn’t think it had much of a release and had little gross.

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