The American oil company KIK Corporation is building an ice road to explore the remote northern Arctic National Wildlife Refuge seeking energy independence. Independent environmentalists work together in a drilling base headed by the tough Ed Pollack in a sort of agreement with the government, approving procedures and sending reports of the operation. When one team member is found dead and naked on the snow, the environmentalist James Hoffman suspects that sour gas (natural gas containing hydrogen sulfide) may have been leaked out as a result of runaway climate change (arctic methane release). The sour gas might then be provoking hallucinations and insanity in the group. After a second fatal incident, he convinces Ed to travel with the team to a hospital for examination. However, weird events end up trapping the group at the base.
One of the characters presently opines that Nature itself has turned against mankind. Documentation and research found in an abandoned shack in the middle of the Arctic by another team member suggest that the Earth is releasing 'The Last Winter'. This implies that the rapacious, virus-like behavior of oil-seeking humans has resurrected the 'ghosts' of the fossil-fuels being siphoned out of the ground. The chief catalyst here is allegedly the Spirit of the Wendigo. These ghosts and other bizarre occurrences kill off most of the remaining characters. In the penultimate scene, Hoffman must decide whether to fire a flare gun at a ghost stalking Pollack, or up into the air to summon help from a nearby town, opting for the latter. This action causes the apparition to focus on Hoffman instead of Pollack, and it grabs him and carries him off. The scene then segues into a montage of past life images which interrupt themselves long enough to reveal Pollack being attacked and presumably killed by a trio of spectral creatures.
The ending scene is that of the only surviving researcher, Abby Sellers, waking up alone in a deserted hospital with no recollection of arriving there. A news anchorman is broadcasting over a television in the waiting room about natural disasters occurring nationwide. She discovers a male employee who has committed suicide by hanging himself in one of the rooms. She proceeds outside, and the camera's perspective switches to a claustrophobic overhead shot that gives away very little of what she is witnessing. There are pools of water on the ground nearby. In the background she hears car alarms and the sound of the wind, as well as a fluttering noise similar to that made by the murderous "ghost" creatures further north in the Alaskan snow fields.Ron Perlman as Ed Pollack
James LeGros as James Hoffman
Connie Britton as Abby Sellers
Zach Gilford as Maxwell McKinder
Kevin Corrigan as Motor
Jamie Harrold as Elliot Jenkins
Pato Hoffmann as Lee Means
Joanne Shenandoah as Dawn Russell
Larry Fessenden as Charles Foster
Fessenden's first idea for the script involved a Muslim and a non-Muslim forced to depend on each other in a remote location. This was later mixed with and refined by other ideas that involved the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and global warming. The idea of stranding two people with radically different outlooks was subsequently incorporated into the film's ending. The setting was partially inspired by Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, a non-fiction book about wilderness survival in the Antarctic. Fessenden brought in co-writer Robert Leaver to collaborate with, and the two went back and forth on various ideas. Fessenden said, "Ultimately I wanted to show how an individual’s worldview affects how he or she deals with reality." When writing the characters, Fessenden gave Pollack ideas and personality traits that he could relate to while keeping the character's outlook reactionary. For Fessenden, this demonstrated a common American outlook that he wanted to highlight as having to change to fit the needs a changing world. Fessenden said the monsters are not to be taken literally and are "a manifestation within Hoffman's mind".
When casting the film, Fessenden looked to recruit Perlman because of his gruff performance as the title character in Hellboy. LeGros and Britton are actors that Fessenden enjoys, and he wanted to give them starring roles. Funding came from the Icelandic Film Commission and Katapult. Shooting took place in both Iceland and Alaska. Iceland was chosen because of the poor film infrastructure in Alaska, and Canada – the other obvious shooting location – was not flat or snowy enough. Fessenden credited shooting some scenes in Alaska with adding authenticity to the film and further inspiring him to make changes to the script as he scouted locations.
The Last Winter premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The U.S. cable channel IFC had been supportive of Fessenden's career and often played his films. When someone from IFC Films said he liked the film, Fessenden sought out a distribution deal from them. They released it in the US on September 19, 2007, where it grossed $33,190. It grossed another $64,332 internationally, for a worldwide total of $97,522.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 76% of 50 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 6.7/10. The site's consensus reads: "The Last Winter creatively and effectively uses horror tactics – fear, tension, anticipation, and just enough gore – to shock, but never repulse, its audience." Metacritic rated it 69/100 based on 17 reviews. Dennis Harvey of Variety called it "an imperfect but compelling thriller" that returns to Fessenden's interest in character dynamics, atmosphere, and offbeat narrative ideas rather than genre cliches. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times selected it as a "NYT Critics' Pick" and wrote that it "breathes fresh air into a stale setup", comparing it to the "elegantly restrained horror" of Val Lewton. In describing it as a traditional Gothic horror story, Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times wrote that it "accomplishes with a modest budget and a talented cast what bigger, slicker, gorier contemporary horror movies rarely do".