Tom Humberstone

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horror week - day 1

The Last Winter (2006)

"What if the very thing we were here to pull out of the ground were to rise willingly?"

Quick summary: A drilling crew, working on behalf of an American oil company, are looking to build a pipeline in the Arctic and create "energy independence". They're joined by environmental analysts who begin to suspect that nature may not be entirely okay with this.

Larry Fessenden - the writer, director, actor, producer, editor, caterer, gaffer, best boy etc. of Glass Eye Pix - came to my attention last year when he popped up in Jug Face/The Pit.

Since then, it seems I can't watch a contemporary horror film without finding him make a cameo or seeing his name involved in the production somewhere (Pod, We Are What We Are, You're Next, Stakeland, The Innkeepers, We Are Still Here, and the PS4 horror game Until Dawn - which he wrote - to name just a few).

Fessenden has established himself as a huge presence in modern horror. And yet I hadn't watched any of the films he'd written and directed.

As such, I wanted to kick off this week of horror with a Fessenden double-bill. To start - The Last Winter - or An Inconvenient Horror. Fessenden's 2006 parable about climate change.

It's set in a remote camp in the Arctic with Ron Perlman, Connie Britton, and Kevin Corrigan among the ragtag bunch of people who will slowly start mistrusting each other and their own sanity. Being someone who would count The Thing among my favourite films, this suits me down to the ground. There's something particularly scary about the bright, white, isolating Arctic environment - it reminds me of The Others which successfully encouraged the audience to fear the light more than the shadows. And Fessenden, with his cinematographer, makes the most of the location. Using long, smooth pans and zooms to create a disorientating sense of space while building a tense feeling of impending doom with some patient pacing. The soundtrack's quiet, gentle piano refrains also add to the thoughtful, poetic tone it wants to set.

As the apocalyptic ending ramps up, it perhaps feels a little unsatisfying. But overall I enjoyed the contemplative ambiguity. Nice to see a horror film tackling climate change too.

"This ground's been frozen for over one thousand years; we have no idea what's coming out of it!"

I also watched:

Wendigo (2001)

"It can fly at you like a sudden storm without warning, and devour you, consume you, with it's ferocious appetite."

Quick summary: A family from the city (passive aggressive dad, Patricia Clarkson! and the creepy looking kid from Malcolm In The Middle) have escaped to rural upstate New York for a quiet holiday, only to ruffle the feathers of some local hunters.

Two thirds of this movie deals with the fall-out of that early run-in - giving this a very Straw Dogs/Deliverance feel. While the other third involves the Spirit of the Wendigo (which is a term used in The Last Winter and seems to be something of a recurring theme for Fessenden). But threaded throughout, Fessenden makes us much more interested in the dynamics of this dysfunctional family. The uptight, workaholic dad with anger issues, the quiet, sensitive kid with a growing inner life that may or may not be seeping into the real world, and the patient and pretty much perfect Patricia Clarkson.

The film makes a smart move by focusing on scaring the kid, which kept me empathically on edge. Some really inventive editing and camera techniques. And the direction feels assured and confident despite the low-budget and ropey effects at the end.

I'm impressed that Fessenden seems intent on creating contemporary American horror myths. Almost as if he's trying to single-handedly make American folk horror films in the British tradition. Overall, while both movies lost me a little in the third act, I'm a big fan of Fessenden's style of horror here and plan to seek out the rest of his work.

In the meantime, if you're interested in Wendigos, there's a good episode of Lore here that's worth a listen.

Tonight: Going to go for a witch theme with The Witch followed by Witchfinder General/The Conqueror Worm.

Check out the archive of the horror week here.

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