Freud described the uncanny as the horror that stems from something that feels familiar and unfamiliar at once, caused by the return of something that was concealed or repressed. It's a feeling that courses through Larry Fessenden's "The Last Winter," which is set and partly shot in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (The rest was shot in Iceland.) It also sums up the plot of the movie, a contemporary gothic thriller about the perils of messing with nature.
The advance team for an oil company waits for temperatures to drop so that it can start drilling in the formerly protected wildernesss preserve, but the weather isn't cooperating and the members are getting cagey. The permafrost is melting, which is making the ice roads unpassable and releasing into the air all kinds of formerly frozen organisms, viruses and -- who knows? -- the ghosts of the fearsome creatures that roamed the Earth until they died and got mulched into fossil fuels.
The movie opens with a corporate propaganda video that explains that a "historic vote in Congress" has allowed North Industries to send an advance team into the wilderness to study the effect of drilling, bringing us one step closer to energy independence. The presentation ends with the Orwellian-sounding motto, "Trust, risk, results," which turns out to double as a to-do list for the apocalypse.
North's advance team members doesn't radiate quite the level of slick and can-do competence of the company's promotional materials, however. In fact, they bear more than a passing resemblance to the scrappy space truckers of the Nostromo. (Fessenden was going for "Alien" and John Carpenter's "The Thing," mood-wise, and mission accomplished.) The camp mechanic, Motor (the lovably off-putting Kevin Corrigan), spends his days in a cloud of pot smoke; cook Dawn (Joanne Shenandoah) serves grotesque slop and devours romance novels; scientist Elliott (Jamie Harrold) pines for home and spends his day writing e-mails to his mother; young Maxwell (Zach Gilford), whose father thought he could put his love of the outdoors to use by drilling for oil in a pristine setting, seems understandably out of sorts; and the mysterious native Alaskan Lee (Pato Hoffman) does little, says less but smiles to himself like someone who knows something.
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