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Review: Hold the Dark (TIFF 2018)

Hold the Dark (TIFF 2018)
5 10

PLOT: A wolf expert (Jeffrey Wright) is recruited by a young mother (Riley Keough) to find the pack that dragged her son off into the Alaskan Wilderness. His findings soon put him at odds with the boy’s father (Alexander Skarsgard) a soldier recently returned home after being injured.

REVIEW: Let’s give Netflix the credit it is due — this is a gusty film for them to have made. Their commitment to filmmakers has arguably never been more apparent than in director Jeremy Saulnier’s epic HOLD THE DARK, a movie that would have never been funded by a major studio and obviously needed a certain budget in order to do right. You can tell that he was given creative control and the movie, for better or worse, has his distinct stamp on it.

However, after watching HOLD THE DARK, I started to wonder if too much freedom isn’t always the best thing, with this very much feeling like its cut from the same cloth as Duncan Jones’s MUTE. It’s another case where a superbly talented director’s been given the resources to make his dream project, but the end result, despite flashes of genius, is largely tedious and something I’ bet 90% of viewers will abandon after the first twenty minutes or so.

Jeffrey Wright, with his distinctive mannerisms, makes for a unique hero, but his character isn’t fleshed-out enough to make sense. We get that he’s a wolf expert, but this aspect only matters for maybe the first act, after which it becomes a wildly different sort of movie. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I won’t reveal the twist that makes it switch gears, but the shift in tone is off-putting, and whole episodes feel like they could have been excised, such as a battle scene set in Fallujah that comes out of nowhere. The movie gets bogged down in its set-pieces, no matter how technically sophisticated they are.

Riley Keough is off-screen for most of the movie, but she strikes a solidly enigmatic tone, but she’s oddball enough that you’re never sure why Wright doesn’t run for the hills after meeting her. Skarsgard is big and scary, the note I suppose he’s meant to hit, but like Keough he never feels like an actual character. The only one to really bring humanity to his part is James Badge Dale as the town sheriff, who gets the movie’s big set piece, an admittedly amazing gunfight that feels out of pace with the rest of the film, but is technically dazzling.

Through it all, I never felt like I understood Wright’s character and why he’d involve himself in an investigation that he often seems indifferent to. You never buy the character’s obsession, but to me that’s less a fault of Wright’s than the fact that he’s been let down by a film that sees to value style over substance. Granted, the film is gorgeous to look at, with beautiful 4K visuals that should look impeccable streaming.

To me, HOLD THE DARK is the biggest disappointment of this year’s TIFF, as I loved Saulnier’s last two film, as well as writer Macon Blair’s I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE. This is certainly a change of pace for them, but to me they never really bring the material, which is based on a novel by William Giraldi, to life. It's lovely to look at, but rarely compelling.


Source: JoBlo.com

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