Benjamin Dickinson’s apocalyptical film, “First Winter,” attempts to tease out raw human baseness from a group of young Brooklynites, when all they want to do is have sex and do yoga.
The film opens with twelve New Yorkers stranded in a farmhouse, facing a record-breaking cold and a life-threatening blackout. Unofficial leader Paul (Paul Manza), owner of the farmhouse, creates an island of drugs, sex, and yoga in this sea of ice. But as the winter drags on and the food rations dwindle, the house begins to fall apart.
Overall the film is beautifully shot. The wintry landscape creates the perfect, barren backdrop for the brewing turmoil inside the house. Manza is brilliant as Paul, a man with good intentions that are perhaps overshadowed by his selfish desires. Using their isolation as a chance to take advantage of the girls living in the house, Paul only seeks his own satisfaction. It isn’t until the arrival of Marie (Lindsay Burdge) and an ever-dwindling food supply that he is forced to reconsider his leadership responsibilities.
A main weakness of the film is over-dramatization of certain events. In one scene, we see the rationing out of their last bits of food. The camera rolls painfully over each outstretched bowl, hands held out as if in offering. But just as it reaches the end of the line, it doubles back and slowly makes it way around a second time—a solid five minutes of metal spoons scraping up last bits of rice and beans. Though trying to emphasize the group’s growth, scenes like this reduce the situation to a comical light and undermine the film’s message.
“First Winter” is sometimes too subtle in its message and sometimes too obvious. Despite a strong cast and good directing, it fails to elicit much emotion for both the plight of the group and the internal struggles characters face in their interactions with one another.