Thursday, September 25, 2008

Season 1 Episode 5
Written by Richard Chizmar & Jonathon Schaech
Directed by Stuart Gordon

Now, this one was also an episode I looked forward to, primarily because Richard Chizmar and Jonathon Schaech were also responsible for the script to Masters of Horrors entry, “The Washingtonians,” one of Season 2’s best episodes.
And yeah, Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond) ain’t too shabby neither.

Danni Bannerman (Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss) is both a horror geek and a rookie, still-on-probation cop, neither of which endears her to her fellow police officers. Constantly ridiculed and insulted by her male co-workers, Danni (along with two other cops) winds up on the graveyard shift, on the night when Cajun Dwayne Miller (Stephen R. Hart) is being held at the station, the FBI set to take him into custody the next morning.
Miller’s the eponymous “eater,” a serial killer who’s killed 32 people over the past two years. And not only does he murder his victims, but as his designation indicates, he eats them as well.
Females get the worst of Miller’s attentions, kept alive as he gradually consumes them over a protracted period of time.
With that sordid set-up, “Eater” seemed like it could have been a crackling hour of Fear Itself.
Sadly, what it ends up being is a partial success.

In the pros column, most definitely, Gordon’s directing, which, for the most part keeps the tension palpable, utilizing a multitude of Dutch angles and successfully exploiting the single setting (the largely deserted police station). In this, Gordon succeeds where John Landis failed with “In Sickness and In Health.”
The script itself though, is passable without being distinguished. It also doesn’t come close to “The Washingtonians.”

While the narrative being pretty much transparent is hardly desirable, it’s still preferable over the two cheats that take place over the course of the episode (the first involving the Sarge—played by Lincoln Heights' Russell Hornsby—and the second taking place in the climax).
This is the kind of annoying tactic that blatantly defies logic in an attempt to keep the audience in the dark. The episode would have probably played that much better if these cheats could have somehow been avoided. (And if we could have skipped the silly remix version of Miller’s chant, things would’ve looked all the brighter…)

Ultimately, though “Eater” may hold the distinction of being the most suspenseful FI entry thus far, it’s still not as solid an episode as “Family Man.”

Parting shot: A review of the Masters of Horror episode, “The Washingtonians,” can be found in the Archive.

(Images courtesy of

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Season 1 Episode 3
“The Sino-Mexican Revelation”
Teleplay by Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Directed by Jeremiah Chechik

Hey, the Sensei Ping they make mention of in the Pilot? It’s Mark Dacascos! With a luchador mask on!
So that’s a neat bit of casting in an episode that was, sadly, not as enjoyable as The Middleman’s first two outings.

There were some pluses, mind.
The nice opening sequence in particular, where we see Wendy’s CrapMobile, a Hruck Bugbear (“the pinnacle of Balkan Cold War engineering”) and get a “Girls On Film” reference.
We also get a glimpse of a Middleman-that-might-have-been, and later on, begin to get a sense of what possible characteristics make for a Middleman candidate.
The promise of those intriguing bits though, doesn’t quite lead to an effective episode.

And it’s not the patently ridiculous plot involving luchadores; that I can get behind 100%. Luchadores are cool.
And the patently fake fight scenes? Like the show’s low-rent CGI, they only serve to heighten The Middleman’s charming B-movie appeal.
It’s the overkill of repetition, whether of characters’ self-descriptive declarations (I hope to be spared of Lacey’s “confrontational, spoken-word performance artist” schtick in subsequent episodes) or descriptions of places of interest (the Booty Chest schtick).
The inexplicable display of various time zones also got old pretty quick in this one.

It saddened me that the mighty monster that is Gree-Joe Marks-Watch wrote this installment. You’d think that the show’s creator would give us the best episodes.
I can only hope that this worked better on the comic book page (due to the teleplay credit, I assume this, like the Pilot, was a script adapted from a particular Middleman comic).
On the small screen, however, it just doesn’t pop.
Even the debut of the MiddleJet didn’t really liven things up.

(Images courtesy of,, and

Monday, September 22, 2008


What you are about to see is inspired by true events.
According to the FBI, there are an estimated 1.4 million violent crimes in America each year.
On the night of February 11, 2005, Kristen McKay and James Hoyt left a friend’s wedding reception and returned to the Hoyt family summer home.
The brutal events that took place there are still not entirely known.

So The Strangers tells us right off the bat, before effectively setting the stage with a 911 call, then winding the clock back to the night in question, and the “brutal events” that led up to that call.

Now, for the record, Bryan Bertino’s debut feature is one taut, nasty little motherfrakker. Once the thrills kick off, they don’t really let up.
We’re thrown right into the middle of Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) on the night in question, and clearly, there’s been some incident, an argument, perhaps, or something more; we find ourselves in the middle of a strained, awkward moment in their relationship.
It’s this initial section of The Strangers, where we spend time with the couple on a particularly troubled night, that involves us in their lives, and their emotional dilemma, Tyler and Speedman delivering performances engaging enough to keep our attention.
It’s also this initial dramatic section that serves as an excellent counterpoint to the intensity and suspense that take hold, once things take a turn for the worse.

The thing is though, I’m not a huge fan of these kinds of movies, the ones that purport to be “inspired by true events,” where we see people suffer and, more often than not, die, while the film itself doesn’t really illuminate anything beyond the adage “sh!t happens.”
When this sort of movie is done right—as Bertino’s The Strangers is—it’s thrilling and keeps the audience at the edge of their seats, their collective breath held, their eyes riveted to the screen.
But it really isn’t “entertainment,” not in the sense of an experience I’d look forward to repeating by watching the film over and over again.
Regardless of how close or distant the film is from the reality it’s purportedly based on (on many occasions, the “inspired by true events” tag is more marketing ploy than a genuine indication of the film’s narrative being based on any specific murder case), there’s no denying that this is still the kind of situation that can actually happen. There are no cannibalistic mutants in this, no zombies or vampires or parasitic aliens. Just psychos with really sharp implements.
Bottom line, I always feel ill at ease watching this sort of movie. (Of course, that could be Bertino’s entire point.)

Taking all of that into consideration though, this one’s definitely a gut punch, and Bertino structures the narrative well, while handling both the drama and the thrills with a deft hand.
I’m certainly looking forward to the director’s next effort. (He’s reportedly got three lined up, including Green Eyes, with producer Scott Rudin.)

“I think what scary movies allow you to do is you can take any character that has a background and cut them to the core. Like, at the end of the day, no matter whether they're a good person or bad, we're all going to react instinctively and I love the concept of being able to do that.
“What I love about horror films is if you go to see a great drama, you're going to leave emotionally exhausted. You go to a great horror film and you're going to leave emotionally exhausted, so when I decided to make something like this, I said, ‘What if I took both and put them together?’ Could that reach people even more? Because I don't think people do it enough.
-- Bryan Bertino

Parting shot: Reviews of David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s Ils (which presents a similar scenario) and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games U.S. (which is a statement on these kinds of movies) can be found in the Archive.

Parting shot 2: After seeing The Strangers, I came upon a Bertino interview where he basically says that the depicted events in the film aren’t actually based on one particular real life crime, so the “inspired by real events,” at least in this case, indeed looks to be more marketing tool than anything else.

(The Strangers OS courtesy of [design by Ignition Print]; images courtesy of and

Friday, September 12, 2008


In the time leading up to the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it was repeatedly mentioned by the three principal creative forces behind the film that the reason why this sequel was made nearly two decades after The Last Crusade was because fans kept asking for it.
Well, I’m a fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I never really asked for it.
In point of fact, I never really asked for the other Indy films, either.
The thing is, Spielberg, Lucas, and Ford got it dead on the first time out, so much so that any attempt to capture the same sort of lightning once again was doomed from the get-go.

Raiders of the Lost Ark was one of those rare cinematic experiences that was so very particular, it should have been left alone; the pulp magic and cliffhanger nostalgia of the 1940’s serial was captured so brilliantly in Raiders that any subsequent return would invariably pale by comparison.
Thus, those two previous return trips—the prequel The Temple of Doom and sequel The Last Crusade—were ultimately wildly uneven adventure yarns trying in vain to top the original.
And Crystal Skull, despite the overt trade-in for a new inspirational template (‘50’s science fiction for ‘40’s serial cliffhanger), is, sadly, more of the same.

Much like the other Indy sequels though, Crystal Skull is also not without its merits.
The casting of the fabulous Jim Broadbent (as Charles Stanforth, Dean at Indy’s old academic stomping grounds) is laudable, despite his painfully brief screen time. The equally fabulous Cate Blanchett is also a hoot as Russian baddy, Col. Dr. Irina Spalko, while Alan Dale’s brief appearance as General Ross is greatly appreciated.
And yes, even Shia LaBeouf as greaser Mutt Williams, brings just the right mixture of youthful bravado and vulnerable emotion to his character, pushing Mutt just north of the caricature line.
The return of Karen Allen is also notable, as nostalgia does have an undeniable potency. (The scene with the framed photos of Marcus Brody and Henry Jones, Sr. was a particularly effective moment.)
And, because I’ve always been big on mythology and the weird sh!t, I love all the Roswell/Nazca lines stuff, which certainly resonates more with me than the Sankara stones of Temple of Doom.

Sadly, there’re also bits in Crystal Skull that are either downright silly (Tarzan Mutt and his horde of greaser monkeys) or painfully incredulous (while I already had difficulty with the mine car sequence in Temple of Doom, the Crystal Skull moment which gave rise to the term “nuke the fridge” certainly takes the cake for worst Indy moment, ever; it’s also rather odd that that mortifying moment leads right into the single most chilling image in any Indiana Jones movie).
As far as the rest of the cast goes, John Hurt is pretty much wasted here, as his Harold Oxley is asked to alternate between being absolutely batsh!t crazy and merely befuddled.
Ray Winstone meanwhile, as George McHale, also turns out to be a narrative distraction.
To be fair though, I don’t really think it’s either actor’s fault, as both are made to suffer because Crystal Skull’s script (by David Koepp, from a story by Lucas and Jeff Nathanson) relegates their characters to those piddling roles.

I think the trouble here is that Indy is made to interact with a surfeit of characters, so much so that by the end of the film, none of the relationships feel properly fleshed-out.
Throughout different sections of Crystal Skull, Indy deals with McHale, Mutt, and Marion, diffusing the focus of the film, when it might have been better served if one (or even two) of these supporting characters had been excised from the narrative, keeping things tight and to the point.
Instead, there’s a vaguely scattershot feel that blankets the audience as Crystal Skull unspools, as if the script were uncertain which side of Indy it wished to explore.
In the end, not only do the relationships feel conveniently rushed and contrived, but Indy also doesn’t feel like the real thing.
Much as the character himself feels suspiciously counterfeit, Crystal Skull also feels like a strained, ill-advised attempt at replicating the Raiders experience.

Now, while it’s true that the raison d’etre of any popcorn movie is to be loads of fun, and that even the most problematic of the previous post-Raiders Indy films still has its fair share of fun, there’s a difference between the kind Raiders of the Lost Ark has in spades, and the kind occasionally found in Crystal Skull, which is the transitory sort common to your average Hollywood popcorn fare.
Much as Lucas’ recent Star Wars efforts have turned out, Crystal Skull feels more like commerce than a genuine attempt at creating popcorn art.
And sadly, if Lucas and company are to be believed, it’s all our fault…

(Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull OS courtesy of [art by Drew Struzan; design by BLT & Associates]; images courtesy of,,,, and

Thursday, September 11, 2008


The nominees for this year’s Scream Awards have just been announced, and those that have got me jazzed are:

30 Days of Night
Best Horror Movie
Best Comic Book Movie

Battlestar Galactica
Best TV Show
Best Actor in a Science Fiction Movie or TV Show (Edward James Olmos)
Best Actress in a Science Fiction Movie or TV Show (Tricia Helfer)
Best Scream To Comic Adaptation

The Ultimate Scream
Best Science Fiction Movie
Best Screamplay (Drew Goddard)
Best Actress in a Science Fiction Movie or TV Show (Odette Yustman)
Breakout Performance (Jessica Lucas)
Breakout Performance (T.J. Miller)
Breakout Performance (Odette Yustman)
The Holy Sh!t Scene of the Year (The Statue of Liberty/Empire State Building Attack)
Best F/X

The Dark Knight
The Ultimate Scream
Best Fantasy Movie
Best Sequel
Best Comic Book Movie
Best Director (Christopher Nolan)
Best Screamplay (Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, & David S. Goyer)
Best Superhero (Christian Bale as Batman)
Best Villain (Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face)
Best Villain (Heath Ledger as The Joker)
Best Actor in a Fantasy Movie or TV Show (Christian Bale)
Best Actor in a Fantasy Movie or TV Show (Heath Ledger)
Best Actress in a Fantasy Movie or TV Show (Maggie Gyllenhaal)
Best Supporting Performance (Michael Caine)
Best Supporting Performance (Gary Oldman)
The Holy Sh!t Scene of the Year (The Batmobile/Batpod Chase)
The Holy Sh!t Scene of the Year (The Big Rig Flips Over)
Most Memorable Mutilation (The Pencil Trick)
Best F/X
Best Line (“I believe whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stranger.”: The Joker)
Best Line (“I will now make this pencil disappear.”: The Joker)
Best Line (“Why so serious?”: The Joker)

Best TV Show
Best Actor in a Horror Movie or TV Show (Michael C. Hall)
Best Actress in a Horror Movie or TV Show (Julie Benz)

Funny Games US
Best Remake
Best Actress in a Horror Movie or TV Show (Naomi Watts)

Best Fantasy Movie
Best Superhero (Will Smith as John Hancock)
Best Actress in a Fantasy Movie or TV Show (Charlize Theron)
Best Supporting Performance (Jason Bateman)

Hellboy II: The Golden Army
The Ultimate Scream
Best Fantasy Movie
Best Sequel
Best Director (Guillermo del Toro)
Best Superhero (Ron Perlman as Hellboy)
Best Actor in a Fantasy Movie or TV Show (Ron Perlman)
Best Actress in a Fantasy Movie or TV Show (Selma Blair)
Best Supporting Performance (Doug Jones)
Breakout Performance (Anna Walton)
Most Memorable Mutilation (Attacked By The Flesh-Eating Tooth Fairies)
Best F/X
Best Line (“I’m not a baby… I’m a tumor.”: The Tumor)

Best TV Show
Best Superhero (Masi Oka as Hiro Nakamura)
Best Villain (Zachary Quinto as Sylar)
Best Actress in a Fantasy Movie or TV Show (Hayden Panettiere)

Iron Man
The Ultimate Scream
Best Science Fiction Movie
Best Comic Book Movie
Best Director (Jon Favreau)
Best Screamplay (Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Arthur Marcum, & Matthew Hollaway)
Best Superhero (Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man)
Best Villain (Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane)
Best Actor in a Science Fiction Movie or TV Show (Robert Downey, Jr.)
Best Actress in a Science Fiction Movie or TV Show (Gwyneth Paltrow)
Best Supporting Performance (Terrence Howard)
The Holy Sh!t Scene of the Year (Escape From Ten Rings Hideout)
The Holy Sh!t Scene of the Year (Iron Man’s First Flight)
Best F/X
Best Line (“I am Iron Man!”: Tony Stark)

The Ultimate Scream
Best TV Show
Best Actor in a Fantasy Movie or TV Show (Terry O’Quinn)

The Mist
The Ultimate Scream
Best Horror Movie
Best Director (Frank Darabont)
Best Screamplay (Frank Darabont)
Best Actor in a Horror Movie or TV Show (Thomas Jane)

El Orfanato (The Orphanage)
Best Horror Movie
Best Screamplay (Sergio G. Sanchez)
Best Actor in a Horror Movie or TV Show (Fernando Cayo)
Best Actress in a Horror Movie or TV Show (Belen Rueda)

Pushing Daisies
Breakout Performance (Anna Friel)

The Ruins
Best Horror Movie
Best Actor in a Horror Movie or TV Show (Jonathan Tucker)
Best Actress in a Horror Movie or TV Show (Jena Malone)
Most Memorable Mutilation (The Leg Amputation)

Saw IV
Best Sequel
Best Villain (Tobin Bell as Jigsaw)
Most Memorable Mutilation (The Autopsy)

Southland Tales
Best Science Fiction Movie
Best Actor in a Science Fiction Movie or TV Show (Dwayne Johnson)

The Strangers
Best Horror Movie
Best Actress in a Horror Movie or TV Show (Liv Tyler)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Best Horror Movie
Best Director (Tim Burton)
Best Actor in a Horror Movie or TV Show (Johnny Depp)
Best Actress in a Horror Movie or TV Show (Helena Bonham Carter)
Best Villain (Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin)

Most Memorable Mutilation (Bitten By Vagina With Teeth)

Best Fantasy Movie
Best Comic Book Movie
Best Actor in a Fantasy Movie or TV Show (James McAvoy)
Best Actress in a Fantasy Movie or TV Show (Angelina Jolie)
The Holy Sh!t Scene of the Year (The Reverse Kill Shot)
Best F/X

Congratulations, one and all.
Reviews of all the above films and television shows can be found in the Archive.

Other nominated films also reviewed here at the Iguana are:
Beowulf (Best Fantasy Movie; Best F/X);
The Eye (Best Remake);
Halloween (Best Remake; Best Director [Rob Zombie]);
I Am Legend (Best Science Fiction Movie; Best Actor in a Science Fiction Movie or TV Show [Will Smith]; Most Memorable Mutilation [Attacked By The Infected]);
The Incredible Hulk (Best Fantasy Movie; Best Comic Book Movie; Best Remake; Best Superhero [Edward Norton as The Hulk]; Best Actor in a Fantasy Movie or TV Show [Edward Norton]; Best Line [“Hulk Smash!”: The Hulk]); and
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Best Science Fiction Movie; Best Sequel; Best Actor in a Science Fiction Movie or TV Show [Harrison Ford]; Best Supporting Performance [Shia LaBeouf]).

Among this year’s board (who advised on categories and determined nominees in each category) are: Wes Craven, Neil Gaiman, Tim Kring, Eli Roth, Guillermo del Toro, Kevin Smith, and Stephen King.
Beginning September 12 (Friday) through October 17, voting will be open at
The awards will take place on October 18, Saturday, at The Greek Theater in Los Angeles, CA, and will premiere on Spike TV on October 21, Tuesday (9:00-11:00 PM ET/PT).

(Images courtesy of,,,,,,,, and

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


If you give the Iguana a visit every now and again, you’ll most likely know that I love me my Guillermo del Toro.
The initial blush of curiosity with which I greeted his odd little vampire tale Cronos, has over the years blossomed into a reverent admiration for his exquisitely-told tales of dark, macabre fantasy.
The thing of it is, though, the original Hellboy holds the dubious distinction of being the film I least like in del Toro’s oeuvre. The clunky, ill-paced script and the disappointing, anti-climactic wrap-up, left me with a cinematic experience that suffered terribly when put up against his other popcorn effort, Blade II. (Even del Toro’s first Hollywood foray, Mimic, compromised as it was, was still a lot more fun than Hellboy turned out to be.)
Thus, coming into Hellboy II: The Golden Army, all I really hoped for was that it would at least be better than the original.
Thankfully, it is.
On the downside though, it displays some of the same problems Hellboy had.

Unlike the original (which was adapted from the Hellboy comic, Seed of Destruction), The Golden Army springs from a script penned by del Toro, centering on the Elven Prince Nuada (Blade II’s Luke Goss), who seeks to wage war on humanity by loosing the titular, purportedly indestructible, army upon the world.
The problem with del Toro’s script isn’t its premise though (which is serviceable enough), but rather the manner in which its myriad parts—most of which work rather well, I should note—interact with each other.

The action set pieces—particularly those which feature the bada$$ Nuada—are certainly better than those in the original.
The character bits are—again, as with the original—the best sections of the entire film.
Even the climax, which turns on a decidedly emotional pivot, works far more effectively than Hellboy’s.
But as much as most of the individual narrative pieces do their work, del Toro never quite finds the right rhythm to make the whole a smooth, flowing ride. Comedic bits—a few, sadly strained—blunder into character moments, which then bump up against explosions and fisticuffs.
The erratic pacing of the whole then results in a two-hour running time that ultimately seems longer.

Script problems aside though, The Golden Army is still a worthwhile cinematic experience, and there’s a number of folk that need to be commended for that.
First, the familiar del Toro stalwart, cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (who shot the original Hellboy, as well as Cronos, El espinazo del diablo, and El laberinto del fauno, for which he took home an Oscar, as well as a whole bunch of other honours), who captures all the wonder evident in the costumes of Sammy Sheldon (who also worked on Stardust, V For Vendetta, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and the production design of Stephen Scott (also on the credit roll of Hellboy).

Secondly, there’s the supremely kick-a$$ fight sequences, courtesy of Jackie Chan cohort, Bradley James Allan, who also choreographed The Chronicles of Riddick.
Here, Allan’s work manages to give Blade II’s fight sequences a decent run, while avoiding any overt CGI flourishes (which slightly mar some moments in Blade II).
And hey, Allan also did stunt double duty on the Chan-produced Dak ging san yan lui (Gen-X Cops), so that’s a doubleplusgood in my books.

Thirdly, there’s the amazing creature work by Mike Elizalde’s Spectral Motion, who likewise did time on the original Hellboy (and whose work can also be seen in Monkeybone, Altered, and Lady in the Water, as well as the upcoming Seventh Moon and the live-action Blood: The Last Vampire adaptation).
Realizing in practical terms creature designs which originated from del Toro’s sketchbook, Elizalde supplies 15 creatures for The Golden Army (as compared to the mere 5 for Hellboy), including the incredible Angel of Death.
With the astounding work done here Elizalde proves that genuine characters may be found in the midst of latex and animatronics, and with the effects legend Stan Winston recently departed, it’s comforting to know there are others who can fill the void of his passing.

Giving invaluable assistance in the discovery and realization of those characters, we should also note the contributions of Doug Jones, whose physical performances do much to inform the costumes he wears with a vital and potent substance, and Family Guy/American Dad creator Seth MacFarlane, for bringing bags of amusing levity as the voice of by-the-books BPRD operative, Johann Krauss.
Sadly though, while Goss once again brings a palpable level of pathos to his character, as he did in Blade II, Anna Walton, who plays Nuada’s twin, Nuala, isn’t given much to do beyond looking suitably princess-like. Worse, the script stymies her character on occasion just to get to the next action set piece, or to move the narrative along. If she’d only immediately said, “You should really stop that jumping bean from reaching water,” or “Oh, by the way, since Nuada’s my twin, he can find me wherever I am,” then the film’s characters would have been spared boatloads of grief…

Ultimately, what The Golden Army seems to prove is, if del Toro must do a popcorn movie, then he really should be kept away from the script, or at the very least, have a co-writer by his side (Blade II was written by David Goyer, and Mimic was co-written with Matthew Robbins, who also penned Dragonslayer and *batteries not included).
It seems as if del Toro’s storytelling is better suited to films like El espinazo del diablo or El laberinto del fauno, where action set pieces aren’t required to punctuate the narrative, and the only real fuel that’s needed is his rich and seemingly boundless taste for the fantastic.

Parting shot: Reviews of del Toro’s Blade II and El laberinto del fauno can be found in the Archive, alongside reviews of Mutant Chronicles and The Last Winter (which star Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman).

(Hellboy II: The Golden Army OS [design by BLT & Associates] and Angel of Death character OS courtesy of; images courtesy of [Guillermo del Toro and Mike Elizalde, photos by Egon Endrenyi];;; and

Thanx to Rej and MeAnn of New Worlds, for the cool headgear, the reading material, and of course, the tickets to the Troll Market, and to Jeb, for coming along for the ride…


“Alaska, vast wilderness of the north. Land of great natural beauty and diversity. This is rugged country, land of black gold.”
-- North Industries company video

The land is changed... the biosphere turned, become unfamiliar and erratic. I would say vengeful, but nature is indifferent to us. We fight for our survival, not nature’s.
There’s a fierceness in the wind I’ve never felt before—something is being unleashed from the softening permafrost.
-- An excerpt from James Hoffman’s journal

Two decades after a test well was drilled into a section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, North Industries (“Trust. Risk. Results.”) stands poised to begin an earnest push towards erecting drill sites and pipelines, with an eye towards discovering more oil deposits as the U.S. stubbornly marches towards its goal of “energy independence.”
They just need the thumbs up from the “greenies,” environmental experts who can determine whether the move will impact adversely on the land.
But something is happening at the North Industries base camp. Something whose epicenter seems to be that test well. Something that will brutally remind the North Industries team that the human race doesn’t call the shots.

The Last Winter (co-written, produced, edited, and directed by Larry Fessenden) is an absorbing piece of environmental horror that paints a sinister portrait of nature turned vicious, as it strikes back at the species that has systematically plundered it for its resources, unmindful of the consequences.
The struggle between those who would continue to simply take and those who would prefer circumspection is solidified in the persons of company man Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman), who leads the North Industries team, and James Hoffman (James LeGros), one of the two on-site “greenies,” who senses the wrongness in the air, but cannot quite pin it down, initially focused as he is on numbers and measurements.
It’s the tension and debate between these two characters—and the excellent performances by the actors—that anchors The Last Winter, even as the on-screen events serve to unravel the tight community of the North Industries team.

With a premise that contains much of the action within the confines of the base camp, the scenario is one we’ve seen in cinema before, of comrades co-existing in a claustrophobic space, cut off from civilization, in a situation where the stresses are monumental, and the individuals’ mental health is always placed in a questionable light.
It’s the scenario of Ridley Scott’s Alien, Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot, or, more to the point, John Carpenter’s The Thing.
The Last Winter is, in fact, the first time since Carpenter’s classic remake that the scenario has been so bloody effective.
Fessenden’s script and steady hand, coupled with G. Magni Ágústsson’s excellent cinematography and the rest of the commendable cast, rams the situation home, not only in the slow and steady build-up, but also in the chilling desperation of the film’s third act.

The atmosphere of tension and uncertainty Fessenden captures, where everything—even the swerving and gliding camerawork of Ágústsson—becomes suspect and worthy of fear, is all-encompassing, a shroud of unease which blankets the audience for a majority of the film’s running time.
Even in the face of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening—which engenders its own air of suspense and paranoia in relation to nature’s cruel charms—Fessenden’s achievement in The Last Winter still remains cinema’s most effective environmental creepfest of recent memory (and without Shyamalan’s bad case of miscasting).
It’s this sense of nervous anticipation which permeates The Last Winter—of what could be just around the corner and in the next few minutes of running time—that keeps the film tight and riveting during the deliberately paced first act.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also make mention of the pair from Friday Night Lights: Connie Britton (who plays Abby Sellers) and Zach Gilford (as the youngest member of the team, Maxwell McKinder, son of Pollack’s close friend).
I may not have gotten into the show, but these two are also a large part of what makes The Last Winter work. There’s a quiet, yet solid strength to Britton’s Abby (who is also simultaneously an ambiguous figure whose true motivations aren’t readily apparent), while Gilford’s Maxwell is the first to twig to the nature of exactly what is out there in the ice and snow—the bit with the camera in the dead of night is a fantastic sequence—his performance largely understated, yet hauntingly effective.

The Last Winter is the kind of horror film I love, the kind that unsettles and disturbs and actually says something in the process.
Yes, there are montages and stock footage that serve to drive Fessenden’s point home, but there are also more subtle and devious bits to keep the audience unbalanced: disquieting shots of bleak fields of ice, the stark whiteness broken by lone objects. Footprints that stop dead in the snow. Scrawled journal pages. A pair of boots, abandoned.
There’s also that damned killer tease of a final shot.
And there’s Tom Laverack’s “Running Out of Road” (with Fessenden on sax and backing vocals), a post-millennial dirge to the planet we’ve systematically destroyed, and the dead end we’re still careening towards; the film’s final grace note, that turns the expertly sustained horror of The Last Winter into a wracking grief for all that we’ve lost, and all that we still stand to lose.

The world we grew up in is changed forever.
There is no way home.
-- An excerpt from James Hoffman’s journal

“I really think that the best horror is derived from real life and the fact is, real life is filled with issues. I don't know if they need to be partisan issues, but they're political and that there are solutions and there's debate as to how to address things.
“In the case of
The Last Winter, we can disagree all we want about how to solve problems, but the problems don't change. They can get worse and worse and you can keep arguing all you want, but the f*cking world can collapse around you. You can do something or not, but the world ain't waiting for us to come up with solutions. It's going to do what it's doing and it's moving in a very scary direction.”
-- Larry Fessenden

Parting shot: A double bill of The Last Winter and Davis Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth should scare the living daylights out of its audience.
Throw The Happening in there and turn everyone into instant Greenpeace members…
Or at the very least, make them check out this section of the world wide web…

(The Last Winter OS courtesy of; images courtesy of and