Dir: Larry Fessenden. US-Ice. 2006. 106mins.

The fourth feature from idiosyncratic American independentdirector Larry Fessenden, The Last Winter expertly conflates the psychological dread fundamentalto the horror genre, broadening it out into a deeper, existential malaise aboutthe disintegration of civilisation.

A story about the madness thatengulfs a disparate group at a remote Alaskan drilling site, the movie is clearlyinfluenced visually and thematically by Stanley Kubrick'sThe Shining and John Carpenter's versionof The Thing. It is marred by some didacticpassages about ecological and corporate plunder, but otherwise this unnerving allegoryon greed and conquest was one of the major discoveries at Toronto.

Admittedly, it is a difficultfilm to market: like the works of George Romero, The Last Winter is an intellectualhorror movie that mourns the loss of humanity. The right US distributor should finda way to take advantage of the movie's strong visual qualities, excellent cast andprobing content to reach a discerning audience. Internationally, the film's topicalconcerns about the devastating environmental consequences of developing alternateenergy sources carry a strong contemporary relevance.

A team of scientists and engineersis dispatched by North Industries, an American energy conglomerate, to a remoteoutpost of the Alaska frontier for a top-secret drilling expedition. Fessenden expertly draws out the group dynamics, quickly establishingthe tension between Hoffman (LeGros), the scientist assignedto assess the environmental impact, and Pollock (Perlman),the entrepreneurial, driven drill leader who is highly sceptical of Hoffman's credentials.Their rivalry is exacerbated by their shared sexual history with Abby (Britton),who is now sleeping with Hoffman.

But the crew's private dramais soon replaced by strange, unexplainable actions at their command centre. Abnormallyhigh temperatures imperil the group's ability to import the heavy machinery requiredfor the drill; later Maxwell (Gilford), the least experienced member, goes missingand turns up at the base hours later but subject to increasingly bizarre behaviour.

Soon it becomes clear that somethingis dangerously amiss, as the group's severe isolation and the increasing presenceof some primordial force slowly begins their collective unraveling.Maxwell, is the first to die but not the last, asfellow workers succumb to a variety of demises, from a plane crash to suffocatingeach other.

Eventually Hoffman and Pollockundertake a perilous quest to get help that evolves into their mysterious and unnervingconfrontation with the malevolent force.

The Last Winter is an unusual work, an art movie that frightens and disrupts. Fessenden's tone is to effectively underplay the horror, asthe stillness and foreboding sense of rupture contribute to the developingpanic.

It loses a little something inthe final act, when Fessenden finally unveils the ghostly,spectral presence that haunts the group, but by then it is governed by a sharp,punishing and dismayingly believable pessimism about the human condition thatinstils fright in its audience

Shooting in Iceland, Fessenden uses the blindingly white snowbound landscapes tosignal an inescapable sense of doom and terrifying regret. Working withcinematographer G Magni Agustsson,he deploys sinuous, vertiginous camera movements and vertical, high overheadshots that underline the emphatic break between civilisation and nature: the The Last Winter's power is in how actionsand events are felt as much as they are seen.

The effects work is strong,presenting the crew's nemesis in two guises: a massive, almost alien figure;and a spectral, ghost-like herd of deer which charge in huge formations andstomp a couple of victims to death.

Production companies/backers
Antidote Films
Glass Eye Pix
Zik Zak Kvikmyndir

International sales
Katapult Film Sales

Executive producers
Jeanne Levy-Church
Sigurjon Sighvatsson

Jeffrey Levy-Hinte
Larry Fessenden

Larry Fessenden
Robert Leaver

G Magni Agustsson

Larry Fessenden

Production design
Halfdan Larus Pedersen

Jeff Grace
Anton Sanko

Main cast
Ron Perlman
James LeGros
Connie Britton
Kevin Corrigan
Zach Gilford
Jamie Harrold
Pato Hoffmann
Joanne Shenandoah