Produced by Russell Ackerman,
Eva Maria Daniels, John Schoenfelder
Written by Macon Blair
Based on Hold the Dark
by William Giraldi
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Starring Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgård,
James Badge Dale, Riley Keough,
Irene Bidel, Julian Black Antelope
If you were expecting Jeremy Saulnier’s latest film to be as intense and terrifying as Green Room, prepare to be very disappointed.
The trailer teased a dark mystery about missing children in a remote Alaskan town that were presumably taken by wolves.
Shots of wolf expert Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) stalking something in the wild and a man wearing a wolf mask hinted at something cruel and cultish and more deadly than any wild creature. That’s in the film, sure, but those dropped hints remain just that. You might guess some characters’ secrets, but that insight doesn’t add up to much.
While Saulnier’s previous films Blue Ruin and Green Room proceeded in a more or less straight line with escalating intensity, Hold the Dark meanders when it should menace.
It’s the first film that Saulnier didn’t write himself: It’s based on the novel of the same name by William Giraldi. Saulnier regular Macon Blair adapted the script and shows up in a brief part towards the end of the film. I really enjoyed Blair’s directorial debut, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, which he also wrote. So I have to lay the blame for the odd pacing and lack of focus at Giraldi’s feet.
The film starts intriguingly enough, with young mother Medora (Riley Keough) watching her boy play outside… and then checking back to see his abandoned toy soldier in a snow mound. She writes to Core to track and kill the wolf that she assumes took her child. And he, surprisingly, answers her call.
Meanwhile, her husband Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard) is fighting in Iraq, a world of sand and sun that couldn’t be different from the dark nights and endless snow in Alaska. Medora expects him home soon, but she seems unwilling to face him without any answers.
The story then detours to Sheriff Donald Marium (James Badge Dale). What seems a sidelight to the main story becomes a scene that takes up what feels like a third or at least a quarter of the entire film.
Dale is, as always, excellent. He’s one of the most unsung actors working today. And Marium is perhaps the most well-rounded character in the whole film. Keough is effective as a the haunted mother, but Wright and Skarsgard are, sadly, not given nearly enough to do.
There are moments when the film flickers to brief life, but then it shifts gears again. I’m still wishing for the movie the wildly misleading trailer promised.
Maybe that’s why this went straight to Netflix: After the brilliance of Saulnier’s previous films, Hold the Dark falls far short.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Hold The Dark is currently streaming on Netflix