Hold the Dark (2018) Netflix

Tagline: Netflix are too cool for taglines. That's not the tagline, that's just my reading into their reluctance to tagline their films.

Premise: After her son goes missing, assumed taken by wolves near to their Alaska home in the mountains, a distraught mother contacts a writer who claims to have killed a wolf in one of his books. She contacts him via written letter, so you know this was ages ago, because the only people who still use the post are Amazon marketplace, Council Tax final warnings and the Student Loans people looking for their £35,000 back. In my experience, anyway.

Delivery: Newly released, Hold the Dark was something of a coup for Netflix. Normally I'd start with a quote but it felt like nobody really said anything in the two hours five minutes it runs for. Full disclosure, I am in hospital and had three sleeps, making it a rather long eleven hour total watch. You don't have to do that of course, but you might want to. At least with Netflix, a nap isn't a problem. Hey, there's your tagline Netflix!

I'm being a bit harsh, Hold the Dark isn't terrible, but my expectations were high. Very high. Regular readers will know how much I look forward to director Jeremy Saulnier's films- he who wrote and directed Blue Ruin and Green Room. This is his most ambitious film to date, and also the first he didn't pen himself. Long time collaborator Macon Blair adapted William Giraldi's book for the screen. I'd be quite interested to read the book and see if the film makers just axed 80% of the exposition and replaced it with shots of snowy mountain ranges, because that is what it feels like.

Hold the Dark is longer, rangier, flabbier and more opaque than Blue Ruin and Green Room. Mind you that's not hard, both are taught, mean little movies. I'm not against longer and rangier, but there was enough off about the film that try as I might, I couldn't get carried away by it. The pacing was odd, long periods felt slow, moments which were bonkers jumped out suddenly and there were scenes and some action so understated you could be forgiven for missing them.

There didn't seem to be much rhyme nor reason to the characters' motivations either. That being said I was still intrigued by how it would all play out, as Jeffrey Wright's Russell Core hunts wolves and the truth, and Alexander Skarsgard wreaks bloody mayhem. The violence, as is becoming Saulnier's trademark, was superb when it burst onto the screen, and that did keep me engaged. But Hold the Dark feels a lot like a film in which the director is learning on the job.

Hopefully there will be more attempts at films of the same magnitude by Saulnier (the man himself calls Hold the Dark an “epic”). The scale and scope needed a more potent narrative really, for me. You could argue that he was trying to convey the loss of voice felt by the characters in the vastness by having not a lot happen, but I'd argue that is reaching a bit. 

Bedsit it? Well, it's easy enough to find if you have Netflix. Hold the Dark is atmospheric, looks nice, is well acted, but is overall a bit muddled. Worth a watch if you like the trailer or Saulnier's other films, maybe you'll spot something I missed. On that note it could also be a film which goes up with future viewings. There may have been subtleties which passed by me, I'm not too proud to admit that. After all, I did nap a lot. 6/10


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