The Movie Waffler New Release Review (VOD) - HOLD THE DARK | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review (VOD) - HOLD THE DARK

hold the dark review
An animal behaviour expert finds himself drawn into a bloody manhunt in the wilds of Alaska.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier

Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Riley Keough, Alexander Skarsgård, James Badge Dale, Julian Black Antelope

hold the dark poster


The coming months will see the fruits of Netflix's efforts to foster auteur driven content, with new films from Paul Greengrass, Alfonso Cuaron, The Coen Brothers and even Orson Welles set to debut on the streaming service between now and the end of 2018. First up is the latest from Jeremy Saulnier, who with acclaimed indie thrillers like Blue Ruin and Green Room, has established himself as an arch chronicler of the dark side of America's cultural outposts. Bafflingly, I had to search for Hold the Dark, as Netflix appear to have buried it in their algorithm.

Saulnier's latest takes him to the ultimate American outpost - the wilds of Alaska, and a small village that has been ravaged by a series of child abductions. Blaming wolves for the loss of her young son, Medora Sloane (Riley Keough) enlists the aid of animal behaviour expert Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright), whom she hopes will track down and kill the creature responsible.

hold the dark review

Meanwhile, Medora's psychologically unstable husband Vernon (a menacing Alexander Skarsgård) returns to Alaska following an injury sustained while serving in Afghanistan and sets off on a murderous journey of revenge of his own. Russell finds himself drawn into a manhunt led by local Sheriff Donald Marium (James Badge Dale).

Prior to Hold the Dark, which is adapted from a novel by William Giraldi, Saulnier's films have benefitted from containment, whether restricting the drama to a single, claustrophobic locale (Green Room) or honing in on the singular psychology of a protagonist (Blue Ruin). Hold the Dark's drama unfolds over a sprawling geographical area, and the film can't quite decide which character to focus on. Wright's Russell is the closest it has to a protagonist, but at the end of the film I found myself wondering what exactly he had contributed to the narrative, and why the character was even present to begin with. Russell is largely a bystander in his own film, and personally I would have preferred Saulnier to concentrate on the dynamic between the Sheriff and his homicidal prey.

hold the dark review

At over two hours, Hold the Dark suffers from some pacing issues, which may lead to speculation that Netflix might be guilty of giving their filmmakers a little too much rope. Had this been a traditional studio release, I suspect it would clock in around 20 minutes shorter, In its present form it could certainly benefit from a tighter, more focussed narrative.

Elements of Native American folklore are brought in to add texture to an otherwise rather generic revenge plot, and Saulnier's use of both the harsh Alaskan landscape and its local myths gives his film the feel of a North American cousin of Outback set Australian genre cinema. The Aussies tend to do this with more depth than Saulnier manages however, and his appropriation of Native culture comes across as superficial, little more than an excuse for his villain to don a face-mask and go all Michael Myers in the final act.

hold the dark review

While the narrative is too sloppy and indecisive to hold the film together, what keeps us engaged is Saulnier's deft ability to construct a thrilling set-piece. There are two standouts on offer here. One sees Vernon save an Afghan woman from rape at the hands of a fellow soldier, an act that suggests he simply wanted an excuse to kill the perpetrator. The other is a midpoint mass shootout that Sam Peckinpah would be proud of, Saulnier schooling many of today's action auteurs in how to convey chaos in a clear and concise manner. Both moments would benefit greatly from a big screen release, a complaint I'll no doubt lodge several times in the coming months.

Hold the Dark is on Netflix now.


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