I am not a horror movie person. I’m a “hide behind a pillow until the monster is gone” kind of person. But when Merry Scary Christmas time rolled around again at WWAC, I decided to challenge myself a little and take part.
Now, the one exception to my no-horror-movies rule is John Carpenter’s The Thing — which is actually one of my all time favourites. I don’t know exactly what it is that makes this movie different. Some combination of the cast, the setting, the effects or the way it was me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. I’ve seen it so many times now and I always love it. No security pillow needed.
So when I learned about The Last Winter it seemed like the natural choice for me. Not only because this year was so terrible that it sometimes feels like our last winter before the planet explodes. But because of it’s obvious comparisons to John Carpenter’s classic film. Like The Thing, 2006’s The Last Winter takes place among the ice and snow — only this time our crew finds themselves isolated away in Alaska, instead of Antarctica. There’s also a small difference in the reason they’re there — in The Thing they’re researchers, in The Last Winter they’re looking to build a pipeline for North Corporation, an oil company.
But despite some minor differences the bones of the movies are the same. Both crews are removed from the general population with little access to communication or transportation. They’re both battling the elements and an unknown, otherworldly force. Strange things begin to occur and then we begin to lose crew members one by one.
Even though The Last Winter starts with such an established premise it never managed to capture my attention in quite the same way as The Thing. The subject matter may have been similar, but the two movies approached the topic in very different ways. The Thing starts with an explosion — the helicopter crash — and in doing so it let’s the viewer know right away that something has gone wrong and the sense of dread you feel continues to grow as beloved characters begin to turn on each other. You’re left wondering who can be trusted and if anyone is going to make it out alive.
The Last Winter makes use of a helicopter crash as well — but not until you’re nearly one hour into the hour and a half film. It seems that the director was trying to slowly develop the sense of unease in the viewer, giving us a chance to get to know the characters before ripping them away. Which isn’t a terrible plan — in theory. It doesn’t succeed in this case, however, as the characters are never explored in any real way. For example, Dawn (Joanne Shenandoah), the station’s cook, I know exactly two things about her 1) she can cook and 2) she reads romance novels. It doesn’t take much to communicate something about a character’s personality but simply giving them a job description and throwing them a romance novel doesn’t quite cut it.
What’s even worse, though, is that sense of dread you’re supposed to feel is developed so slowly, so deliberately, it’s barely there. At one point, late in the film, base leader Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman) barks at the environmentalist, James Hoffman (James Le Gros), telling him to “calm the fuck down.” This struck me as a weird moment because until this point (and even during this scene) not a single person seemed particularly worked up. Not about the strange herd of ghost-like deer running around, not about their walkie talkies malfunctioning, and not even about their colleagues dying. Upon discovering one of his crew dead, Ron Perlman does squeeze out a few tears, but the male characters were so interchangeable (and uninteresting) I couldn’t tell you who the frozen body he was crying over belonged to.
There is no slow descent into madness.There is no turning point moment when we realize the character’s personalities are just a little bit off. Things are normal, there are are few sightings of the ghost deer, and then all of a sudden people start dying. They’re just there and then they’re not.
Ultimately, what was scary about this movie was just how badly it squandered its potential. It had all of the tools it needed capture my attention. But there was no tension, no suspense, no explanation (or even theory) about the ghost deer — a monster that apparently only some of them could see, even if it was standing right in front of them. Near the end, when almost everyone else is gone, Hoffman tries to reassure Abby Sellers (Connie Britton) that they’re going to make it and that “[they’re] going to get out and are going to tell the whole world what happened.” A nice sentiment but as the credits start to roll all I was left wondering was what did happen? And why didn’t I just watch The Thing instead?