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Genius Products presents
“Hell, it feels cold as a witch’s boob out here to me.”
DVD ReviewThe declining state of Earth’s environment has been a hotly debated, controversial topic for years now, even showing up as the subject of fictional films. However, there aren’t many horror films that broach the subject matter. The Last Winter is such a genre picture, blending elements of John Carpenter’s The Thing with a touch of Alien, and even The Blair Witch Project to create a claustrophobic atmosphere that proves much creepier than the story itself. After a very brief and tiny theatrical run, Genius brings the film to DVD in the hopes of gaining a much wider audience.
At a remote outpost in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Ed Pollack (Ron Pearlman) has just returned to the site to assess the current state of affairs. It isn’t long before he’s at odds with the resident environmentalist, the non-company-man James Hoffman (James Le Gros), whom also happens to be sleeping with Pollack’s second-in-command, Abby Sellers (Connie Britton). Their main struggle centers on Hoffman’s unwillingness to authorize Pollack’s plan to bring in oil drills via the permafrost which is abnormally warm and melting. Adding to this internal conflict is the strange Maxwell McKinder (Zach Gilford), who disappears for a day and returns with some extremely disturbing video camera footage. The rest of the crew, Jamie Harrold (Elliot Jenkins), Motor (Kevin Corrigan), Lee Means (Pato Hoffman), and Dawn Russell (Joanne Shenandoah), also begin acting strange, making no one feel safe among the freezing cold and isolation.
The first hour of Larry Fessenden’s (Habit) film builds up plenty of creepiness via wonderful character interaction and solid dialogue. Even the Blair Witch-esque look at Maxwell’s camera footage is extremely effective. Yet, once he’s forced to answer what’s behind these strange occurrences and come up with a solid finale, Fessenden misses the mark. It’s as if he really isn’t sure how to end things. Instead of a satisfying, scary conclusion, we get a collection of possible answers to what’s causing the characters to do what they’re doing among plenty of heavy-handed warnings about the current state of our environment. While Fessenden certainly doesn’t go all Al Gore on us, he seems to care more about his film’s message then about coming through with some solid scares. Plus, the CGI effects during the climax are laughably bad, making similar efforts in the early days of the technology look spectacular in comparison. One scene in particular was so distractingly fake-looking that it was difficult to care what happened next.
As with the story, the actors are at the top of their game until the final half hour or so. Pearlman isn’t as dynamic and engaging as he is under the Hellboy makeup, but this is another example that his career is in the midst of a renaissance. It’s always great to see the chameleonic Le Gros pop up in a film, and this is one of his meatiest (and best) turns in years. Britton is fine as the resident eye candy, whose role matures as the film goes along, but it’s Corrigan as Motor who steals nearly every scene he’s in. His character’s fate is very disappointing, though, and could have been handled much better, which can be said for the film as a whole.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C
Image Transfer Review: The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and features plenty of sharp, detailed images. The overly-white color scheme that the story’s setting requires holds up well in this transfer, with well-rendered blacks and shadow levels coming into play when they’re needed. There’s also very little in the form of dirt, grain, or other distracting print flaws.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: A Dolby Digital 5.1 track is very active, with the surrounds springing to life at the perfect times. Wide dynamic range is in play, while tight, aggressive bass adds some punch to the proceedings. Dialogue is always crystal clear and well-integrated into the overall mix.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Out of the Blue, Paranoid Park
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Co-Writer/Director Larry Fessenden
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: The extras include an audio commentary by co-writer/director Larry Fessenden. He talks in great detail about his film, becoming very candid when discussing the tough story choices he was faced with before even going behind the camera.
The only other extra is Making The Last Winter, a massive, two-hour documentary chronicling the making of the movie, from development to post-production. This piece is both informative and a breeze to sit through, despite the long running time.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsRipe with potential, but, when all is said and done, a disappointing thriller, Larry Fessenden’s The Last Winter can’t quite deliver the goods. A fine cast is left as stranded as their characters thanks to a script that could have used a rewrite or two. Genius’ disc is a nice effort, though, complete with excellent audio and video, along with extras that include an extensive documentary.
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