Sunday, 24 June 2012

'My burning feet of fire!'

H.P. Lovecraft has been well-served by film makers, at least with regard to quantity; M.R. James, much less so (though I persist in thinking of the Japanese film Ring as Jamesian in essence). However, James and Lovecraft have both done rather well compared to Algernon Blackwood, a one-time bestselling author and popular broadcaster who is now almost forgotten. But one person who remembers is the writer/director Larry Fessenden. In the film The Last Winter Fessenden essentially updates 'The Wendigo' for the era of climate change.

The film is set in Alasa, at an oil prospecting camp within a conservation area. There's a lot of tension between the oil people and the ecologists who have to assess the damage that permitting extraction might cause. But an already fraught situation is made worse because one of the oil company team is acting very strangely, and the scientists are recording absurdly high temperatures even for an Arctic summer. And for Blackwood fans there's a blink-and-you-miss-it reference to his classic story - an email service called Defago Express.

The arrival of a hard-assed oilman, played by Ron Perlman, triggers confrontation among the human contingent. But is there something inhuman out there, waiting to deal with the interlopers? Yes, but fortunately it's not a monster in the conventional sense. Indeed, the only times the film seemed weak to me was when some kind of CGI 'thing' appeared. It was probably necessary for the distributors or other money people, but it somewhat undermined the air of mystery and awe.

What the trailer doesn't show is the second overt homage to Blackwood, this time at the moment things really come unstuck for our characters. Without giving too much away, the film tries do rather a lot on a limited budget. But it is well served by a good cast, solid script, some imaginative direction, and a soundtrack that is just weird and vague enough to make you believe that Something Is Coming. Not a flawless film, but one that does capture, for much of its length, that Blackwoodian sense of Nature as a being that can casually swat us if it notices us at all.


Oscar Solis said...

Have been planning to see this one and now I will. I've always enjoyed Fessenden's approach to the supernatural. He really respects the genre and thankfully every one of his efforts seems to elevate the genre in a way that while today's audiences may not appreciate it, perhaps tomorrow's audiences will.

Now I have to see the film and read some Algernon Blackwod

valdemar said...

Blackwood is a tricky author - much less accessible than M.R. James, I think. But at his best he's very good indeed.

Oscar Solis said...

I would agree with that assessment. I have to admit the first time I read The Willows I didn't get it. Reading it years later I got it or do I say it got me. Excellent story.

valdemar said...

I think Blackwood has suffered simply because - when he was writing - long, fairly rambling magazine stories/serials were the norm. He wrote prolifically but not always especially well. Yet he could certainly be concise - he was one of the first British authors to broadcast on BBC radio, then on TV after WW2. He only got short slots on air.

Rich Garfinkel said...

I always found DeFago's dialogue fascinating-" oh this height of fiery speed !" Something Old Testament about it.

valdemar said...

I agree, Rich. I think Blackwood was raised by strict Protestant fundamentalists, the Sandemanian sect, so his language might well be partly inspired by the King James version.