Hold the Dark - 2018
Director(s): Jeremy Saulnier
Writer(s): Macon Blair (screenplay) / William Giraldi (book)
Cinematography by: Magnus Nordenhof Jønck
Editor(s): Julia Bloch
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Jeffrey Wright, Julia Black Antelope, Riley Keough and James Badge Dale
Netflix has changed how we view movies in countless ways, but an underrated change, especially for movie lovers on a budget, is making “festival” movies accessible to all. This movie was set to premiere at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) this year and it was my top “must watch” of the year. Thanks to Netflix, I didn’t have to wait months to finally watch it since it also became available to stream over the weekend. The duo of Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair have not failed me yet. Their first two movies, Blue Ruin and Green Room, are unflinching, visceral, unique and above all entertaining. Unfortunately, Hold the Dark is not. Let’s talk about it.
The story centers around… well that’s part of the problem. I usually do a quick summary of the plot, almost like an elevator pitch for my reader that will help put into context the elements I enjoyed or disliked from the movie. But this movie’s story is a mixture of elements that never really meld together into a cohesive and engaging plot. Sure, the elevator pitch is: a wolf behaviorist expert (Wright) is called to a remote Alaskan village by a mother (Keough) who recently lost her child. There has been a recent spree of wolf killings in the village and she wants to hire him to hunt the pack down. But when the father (Skarsgård) comes back from the war he ignites a chain of violent events throughout the village. Read my elevator pitch and notice that there are two movies in there, and neither really pay off, especially when the characters inside of them are hollow and uneventful.
Quick note: this movie is over 2 hrs long, and you feel every single second of it as the pacing will drag you down - especially when the story is not making any effort to make it worth your while. Damn, I never thought I would write this about Saulnier and Blair.
Now, the direction is solid as Saulnier expanded his eye in the vast nature of “Alaska”. It was actually shot in Calgary and Alberta, Canada. Cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck showcased the vast landscapes and the snowy mountains that isolated this village in both their traditions and their connection to the “outside” world. This being a source of tension with the local police and the natives of the land, it was a nice touch to have it represented visually. The violence and the practical effects is once again a highlight as Saulnier has made a name for himself in that aspect. He doesn’t shy away from the gore, yet it never feels gratuitous and sycophantic. There is a shootout that manages to be awesome and stupid at the same time. It’s awesome due to the practical effects and the sound design of the gunshots. It’s stupid due to the countless dumb decisions the characters involved made during the extremely long sequence. Not sure if the pros outweigh the cons during that sequence. Skarsgård is once again relegated to Creepy Tall Menacing Guy That Barely Speaks, but this time around he wears a wolf’s mask.
Along with a storyline that never meshes or has a satisfying resolution, the script is filled with boring, unintriguing and expendable characters that we never connect with and we don’t care about their deaths. Characters come in and die left and right and I honestly don’t know one of their names. I would be cheating if I told you that I knew our protagonist, played by Jeffrey Wright, was named Russell Core before going to IMDB to gather all the information for this review. He is devoid of personality and things just happen to him and the people around him, until things don’t happen anymore and the movie ends. It just ends and it doesn’t feel like an artistic ending that requires multiple viewings and deep analysis to finally gain an insight into the meaning of the movie. It just feels like a waste of time and effort.
Hold the Dark is a disappointment. I know movies are hard and its truly impressive that this duo was two for two in my eyes, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that they missed this time around. But still, it had so much going for it - a great cast, talented cinematographer and a good source material. Sadly, the end result felt like a shot in the dark that completely missed the mark. I would completely skip this movie, but I still would hit play on the next movie this duo produces. I still love movies
Hold the Dark is currently streaming on Netflix. Skip it.
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