Hold the Dark follows Jeffrey Wright’s Russell Core as he travels to Alaska to murder the wolf responsible for abducting a small boy, with the seemingly simple assignment taking on a progressively dangerous dimension after the boy’s father (Alexander Skarsgard’s Vernon Slone) embarks on his own campaign of revenge. Filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier, working from a script by Macon Blair, delivers an incredibly deliberate and subdued drama that’s been punctuated with admittedly electrifying moments, which certainly does ensure that the movie, to an increasingly palpable extent, suffers from a hit-and-miss feel that holds the viewer at arms length from the material (and it doesn’t help, certainly, that Saulnier has directed his actors to whisper and mumble most of their dialogue, which renders much of the speech in the film unintelligible). It’s a vibe that’s compounded by a lack of fully-developed, interesting characters, as Blair’s screenplay keeps things vague to such an extent that it’s often impossible to know what makes these people tick – with this feeling especially true of Skarsgard’s almost impossibly malevolent figure (ie what’s driving him to behave this badly?) The ludicrously overlong running time (125 minutes!) certainly doesn’t do anything to alleviate the somewhat oppressively meandering atmosphere, although, having said that, there’s little doubt that the picture’s been peppered with a small handful of enthralling sequences that ultimately prevent one from tuning out completely (eg a mid-movie shootout that’s as violent as it is gripping). The padded-out (and decidedly anticlimactic) final stretch does, in the end, confirm Hold the Dark‘s place as a well-made misfire, as Saulnier takes what could (and should) have been a brisk thriller and forces it into the confines of a bloated (and often tedious) drama.
** out of ****