Monday, August 13, 2007

"Virtual" Fantasia: Backwoods and The Last Winter

Well, finally finished all my Fantasia stuff, barring an unexpected care package coming in the mail (which could happen; I don't know how long it was after last year's festival ended that I got one last year). Overall, I had a real blast; the broader selection of movies made it much harder to get burned out. I can't wait to go again next year.

So, here's the last of it. I've also updated the posts for Days Nine and Ten with reviews of The Rage, Puritan, Isabella, and Midnight Ballad for Ghost Theater

The Backwoods (Bosque de Sombras)

* * * ¼-ish (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2007 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia 2007 Screener)

This is a very cool little thriller, with nice performances by a very nice cast (Gary Oldman, Paddy Considide, Virginie Ledoyen, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) I wish I could properly review it, because unfortunately the screener I received from Fantasia was missing English subtitles on the Spanish-language scenes, which I strongly suspect are necessary to understanding just what the deal is with the little girl Oldman's & Considine's characters find locked in an abandoned house. Without that, I just can't figure it out.

So, relationship between English-speaking characters and chase-type stuff: Pretty darn good. Story which drives it? Can't tell you.

The Last Winter

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 August 2007 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia 2007 Screener)

It would be completely wrong of me spoil the thing in The Last Winter that made me go from thinking it was a nice little "isolated area (and maybe something else) starts messing with people" horror movie to lapping it up like a ten year old boy whose dreams have just been answered. Since I find myself unable to finish writing this until I let it out, allow me one small tease: G____ d________!

It's a slow burn before we get to them. North Industries has just received Congressional approval to start drilling for oil in Alaska; we're ominously informed that an exploratory well was drilled twenty years ago but abandoned. Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman) has just flown out to get things on schedule, only to find his ex-girlfriend Abby Sellers (Connie Britton) sleeping with the head environmental impact monitor, James Hoffman (James LeGros). He's warning of environmental catastrophe, of course, but the rising temperature is making it difficult to build the ice road needed to get equipment out there. Also on the base are Hoffman's assistant Elliot Jenkins (Jamie Harrold), "Motor" the mechanic (Kevin Corrigan), Inuit employees Dawn (Joanne Shenandoah) and Lee (Pato Hoffman), along with Maxwell McKinder (Zach Gilford). Maxwell is starting to get "big-eye" from the endless white landscape anyway, but comes back from a trip to see the old test well even more unsteady.

The first half of the movie is set-up, but writer/director Larry Fessenden spends it more on establishing character relationships than anything else. We get to see which characters get along and which don't, for reasons both personal and political. The opening exposition is a little heavy-handed, but it's the quickest way to get us up to speed on what we need to know without wasting a whole lot of time, and it does kind of prime us to treat it like a horror movie: Aside from the ominous depiction of the station's isolation (which would feel right at home in The Thing), the first half hour could seem like it was laying the groundwork for an "evil ex" movie, an issue-oriented drama, or, (shiver!) some terrible combination of the two. A little foreshadowing that the movie might wind up going in a paranormal direction keeps what happens later from being an unwelcome surprise.

Full review at EFC.

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