The Last Winter

It’s likely too late for us. As a species we’ve gone about as far as we can, and each day it looks more and more like we’re designing our own destruction. We had a good run. Hell, we had an amazing run. Humans have created and done unbelievable things: The Pyramids; Moby Dick; The Parthenon;  Men walked the moon; Voyager is beyond the edge of our solar system; The Godfather Part II; Democracy; The Ode to Joy; “Nashville Gone to Ashes”. We have left a legacy that would be a joy to behold if anyone was going to be around to behold it. But they won’t.

For the longest time it looked like we would wipe ourselves from history with nuclear weapons. That seems less likely now. Now it looks like we’ll do it with carbon emissions.  It will be a slow death. Maybe it’s a case of nature fighting back. Rising temperatures are like a fever killing an invading body.  Larry Fessenden seems to understand this.

His film, The Last Winter is the perfect example of a new genre called Environmental Horror. To a lesser degree his Wendigo can also be considered part of this movement in film.   In these films natural forces take the place of slashers or vampires or ghosts and wreak havoc on the humans who stand in the way.

The Last Winter features a small team of oil and gas workers preparing for a pipeline in the arctic on the site of a test well that was abandoned years earlier.  The fil stars Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Connie Britton (American Horror Story) and Kevin Corrigan (Community).

The group lives in an environment that is immediately reminiscent of The Thing. However, this tale does not hinge on isolation the way that one does.   The workers are preparing (or at least preparing to prepare) for an ice road that will allow trucks and equipment to be brought in.  They never feel completely cut of from the world.

The plot of the film is simple. Things go wrong. People see things. A man wanders out into the cold nude and freezes to death. Something ate his eyes. It may have been crows, or it may have been something worse.  Everyone starts to grow paranoid and fearful. They all want to blame each other for what’s happening.

The problem may be that some sort of poisonous gas is leaking from the ground due to the permafrost melting (which is happening because the temperatures are rising and we all know why the temperatures are rising). Maybe this gas is causing hallucinations and madness.

Or maybe something else is happening.  There is a glimpse of some sort of creature on a video. Maybe people saw it. Maybe it wasn’t there. 
Either way, nature is out to get them. Either a vengeful creature from the arctic is stalking the oil workers to put a stop to the attack on the earth that they are committing, or a deadly gas has been released by climate change.

The film ends with a beautifully stark scene that points to the former explanation and really drives home his point. It isn’t subtle, but really the time for subtlety has long passed.

Fessenden’s earlier film, Wendigo touches on something similar in a more gentle, but also more unsettling way. In that film a family is harassed by an angry redneck.  The family accidentally interfered with his deer hunt, and he stalks them. He peeps through the windows of their vacation home 9which he had earlier shot holes in with a rifle). He threatens and frightens the family and eventually shoots the dad. 

At the end of the film he is attacked by something that resembles a deer skeleton and the point being made isn’t difficult to get. Nature may be taking sides in this particular fight.

Fessenden seems to be one of the major contributors to the environmental horror genre and his work will make a great part of human legacy, assuming that any humans survive to enjoy it