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The Last Winter

Sure, global warming is scary, but chances are even Al Gore would be baffled by Larry Fessenden's moody, Arctic-set ''eco-thriller'' The Last Winter.


In the remotest parts of Northern Alaska, a team of oil company employees--led by brusque, bombastic Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman)--awaits confirmation that they'll be able to go ahead with their drilling plans. But environmental impact experts Jim Hoffman (James LeGros) and Elliot Jenkins (Jamie Harrold), concerned by unexpectedly high temperatures and melting permafrost, are reluctant to give their okay. Things get exponentially more complicated when--after an unexplained absence and some agitated ranting--one of the team members winds up dead, and others start acting erratically. After their one hope of rescue literally crashes and burns, it's up to Pollack and Hoffman to work together to save the rest of the group from whatever's threatening them--whether it's a malevolent spirit or their own fear and paranoia.


It's rare that Perlman gets a chance to show off his chops without several layers of makeup and special-effects prosthetics, so it's too bad that his character here is so one note. Pollack is consistently overbearing and impatient; he's a company man determined to do whatever it takes to start drilling, no matter what anyone else thinks. Pollack's one-track determination makes it easy for the movie to position LeGros' Hoffman as its ''noble'' hero, despite the fact that the bearded environmentalist is really just as unstable as the rest of the gang (a fact that's indicated more through camerawork than LeGros' flat performance). Even the ''passionate'' undercurrent in the two characters' relationship--a rivalry for the affections of station sweetheart Abby (Connie Britton)--doesn't really give it much spark. But maybe that's just a side effect of the frigid setting.


The Last Winter suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. It starts out as a bleak indie meditation on potentially catastrophic environmental changes, then takes a detour (by way of John Carpenter's The Thing) into the terror of facing down evil in one of the most isolated places on earth. But it's never really all that terrifying, from either an environmentalist or a horror aficionado perspective. Much of that is due to the frequently abrupt scene changes and unexplained action--it's hard to get engrossed enough to be scared when you're wondering about plot technicalities and trying to figure out exactly what the movie's ''evil spirit'' is supposed to be. Larry Fessenden seems to be aiming for a film that could be described as ''atmospheric'' and ''complex,'' but what you're left with is more like ''baffling'' and ''frustrating.''

Bottom Line rated this film 1 1/2 stars.