Jeremy Saulnier's fourth feature delivers ample drama without quite nailing the tone
Man proves considerably more deadly than beast in the fourth feature from ace indie director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room). Based on the novel by William Giraldi, it sees a grizzled writer, a killing-machine soldier and said soldier's mentally wobbly wife come together for a film that presents a stunningly volatile but only partially successful skew on the revenge narrative.
Jeffrey Wright plays Russell Core, a wolf enthusiast author hired by a desperate Medora Slone (Riley Keough) to track down the beast who has made off with her young son Bailey (Beckam Crawford). But something is not quite right. Medora is a mere spectre of a woman of questionable sanity, and when Russell returns from his initial exploration of the Alaskan wilderness he makes a terrifying discovery. It's a revelation that coincides with the discharge of Medora's squaddie husband Vernon (Alexander Skarsgård) whose reaction to his son's demise is nothing short of cataclysmic.
Wolves watch ominously over proceedings and rituals and talk of possession are rife but Hold the Dark never quite achieves the eerie spirituality it aspires to – the dialogue tends toward the gnomic and the actors' delivery stays curiously detached. Working with screenwriter Macon Blair (writer/director of I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore. who appeared in and produced Saulnier's three previous films and pops up here), Saulnier is on stronger footing when offering real-world explanations for the horror that's unleashed: PTSD, postnatal depression and the way small, isolated communities can harbour a simmering contempt for the authorities that neglect them.
This strikingly beautiful Netflix production would have benefitted from the expanse and atmosphere afforded by the big screen. And whilst Saulnier's ability to conjure and conduct scenes of impactful violence remains undiminished, the wry humour and assured air of his previous work is somewhat missed. Although unpredictable, explosive and engrossing, Hold the Dark doesn't find the depth and resonance it seeks.
Available to watch on Netflix from Fri 28 Sep.