After establishing himself as one of the most promising talents working in the film industry today with two back-to-back cinematic gems, Jeremy Saulnier hits a snag with his fourth feature film and delivers his first dud with Hold the Dark.
The story unfolds in a small village in the Alaskan wilderness and follows a writer who's summoned there by a young woman to hunt & kill the wolves that took her son, only to find himself in the middle of a vengeful rampage being carried out by the boy's father.
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier (best known for Blue Ruin & Green Room), Hold the Dark begins on a promising note, creating the required intrigue & mystery but it all fades away as the muddled plot goes a tad too awry. The viewers are given nothing to latch on to and the story wanders with no sense of direction.
Though the story teases with a feral angle, the mystery remains a mystery, leaving behind more questions than answers. The threads are left loose, not much material is provided to connect the dots, characters aren't fleshed enough to make us care, and whatever Saulnier was aiming for, he falls short by a considerable margin.
The only thing working in the film's favour is its dark atmosphere. Reeking of death & dread, the aura is that of an omen and it is well sustained from start to finish. The smart camerawork, desolate locations & grim score bring an uneasy feeling of their own into the mix. Yet it all amounts to nothing thanks to its convoluted structure.
Its slow-burn narrative makes its 125 minutes runtime feel twice as long. There are many scenes that don't add up and it's all emotionally distant. There is a shootout segment that will stand out for most but even that ends up overstaying its welcome. As for the ending, it's bound to leave many viewers baffled, frustrated & unsatisfied.
The violence the film has in store is brutal & unflinching just like the director's past features yet they don't leave much of an impact. Performances range from good to garbage and in a cast starring Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgård & Riley Keough, it's James Badge Dale who shines. Macon Blair also has a cameo and it's awful.
On an overall scale, Hold the Dark is a slow, meandering, overlong, blank & boring mess, and is undeniably Jeremy Saulnier's weakest film to date. A shoddily scripted & poorly executed thriller that brings the director's creative momentum to a sudden halt, Hold the Dark is an unexpected misfire that may require another viewing for a final verdict but for now, it is an absolute disappointment.
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