The Last Winter

(Larry Fessenden, USA/Iceland, 2006)

BY RUFUS DE RHAM | December 30, 2023

There is a deep sense of overwhelming sadness that pervades Larry Fessenden’s The Last Winter. Oil workers for North Industries, run by Ed Pollack (the perfectly cast Ron Perlman), join forces with an environmental investigation team led by James Hoffman (James Le Gros) to study the viability of a new drilling site deep in the Alaskan wilderness. The weather is toastier than usual, and the warming permafrost can’t support the ice road Pollack is desperate to complete so the drilling can begin. Hoffman won’t sign off on the necessary paperwork, and his relationship with Abby Sellers (Connie Britton), who used to sleep with Pollack, isn’t helping matters.

Maxwell (Zach Gilford), the youngest member of the crew, has been behaving oddly, which the rest of the team at first attributes to his inexperience with the cold vastness of their arctic surroundings. Certain small, strange occurrences—a nosebleed that never ends, a disappearance—are followed by ever-increasing tragedies that build on each other. Human tensions give way to a creeping sense of madness that seems to be infecting the camp. Hoffman wonders if the culprit is sour gas seeping up from the ground—or if there’s something far more primal slowly circling them in the night.

Despite its similar setting to The Thing (1982), The Last Winter is closer in spirit to eco-horror like Long Weekend (Colin Eggleston’s 1978 version, of course). Much more about existential dread and the very human traumas of climate change than monsters, the film asks us to sympathize with the mortals, even as it’s obvious that they are the ones who shouldn’t be there. They are the grave robbers, as one character points out, creating oil from the ghosts of former creatures.

With The Last Winter, Fessenden further explores the Wendigo myth, a topic he has returned to several times throughout his career (in 2001’s Wendigo; his 2008 Fear Itself episode, “Skin and Bones”; and the 2015 video game Until Dawn, which he co-wrote). Here it stands in for the endless greed of humanity, and is the source of some wonderful imagery lifted straight from Algernon Blackwood, like footprints disappearing in the snowy distance and burning feet. As the body count rises, the film’s budget holds its apocalyptic vision back a bit, but Fessenden’s ability to focus on the intimate, complex relationships between troubled people makes it soar. Perhaps his most ambitious work to date, The Last Winter remains my favorite entry in his filmography, and the deep solastalgic horror it presents becomes ever more unsettling as climate records continue to shatter. 🩸


lives in rural Connecticut across from spooky old ruins in the woods. He is part of Boondocks Film Society, a group that programs unique pop-up film events in Litchfield Hills, the Hudson Valley, and the Berkshires. He has programmed for Film at Lincoln Center (Scary Movies, My First Film Fest) and Subway Cinema (New York Asian Film Festival, Old School Kung Fu Fest). He has written extensively about Asian cinema, most recently co-editing an issue of NANG magazine dedicated to Archival Imaginaries in Asia.

X: @rufusderham

How to see The Last Winter

The film can also be found on DVD. The only current Blu-ray edition comes as part of The Larry Fessenden Collection.
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