Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Screenplay: Macon Blair
Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgård, James Badge Dale, Riley Keough, Irene Bidel, Julian Black Antelope
Runtime: 125 Minutes
Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to bone-crunching thriller Green Room is actually project conceived of earlier on by himself collaborator Macon Blair, based on the book of the same name by William Giraldi.
Taking place in the wintery darkness of an Alaskan town, after the deaths of three children suspected to be killed by wolves, writer Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) is hired by the parents (Alexander Skarsgård and Riley Keough) of a missing six-year-old boy to track down and locate their son in the Alaskan wilderness.
This is a much more restrained work than his last effort, opting more for the moody, muted musings on morality and the feral nature of human beings as Blue Ruin, with bursts of horrendous violence that work by never glorifying or making physical harm or injury enjoyable to watch. Also, like that film, it begins as one story before evolving into something else entirely – but even as a gruelling revenge thriller it feels like its missing fundamental components.
Blair holds scripting duties on this one, marking the first time Saulnier has directed a feature he hasn’t written, and it sadly shows. You really feel it in the deliberately stoic manner of pacing that goes less for thrills than it does morbid meditation, leaving the mythological underpinnings holding up a more derivative narrative and picking at the scabs of its regrettably thin characters.
Wright is quite good here as a character who is just not coping with the situation that he has found himself in, but it’s possible that Skarsgård might be a horrible actor who has been able to disguise his shocking lack of screen presence behind dour intensity and a lumbering frame. Keough does very little and supposedly warmer characters such as James Badge Dale’s sheriff are left as cold as the film’s chilly frame.
Hold the Dark is a depressing let-down that feels more like a slog than an intended wallow, with whatever point it was aiming for being strained or lost by an overlong runtime.