It usually becomes clear you’re watching an awful film well before the credits roll.
Often, it strikes you within the first few minutes. In those cases you can either embrace the awful or simply switch it off.
No harm, no foul.
Then you have the more frustrating films. These promise quality but end up circling the porcelain drain. “Hold the Dark” is such a film.
The story is more of a setting and premise than anything else. It takes place almost entirely in a remote area of Alaska. Wolves have been blamed for the disappearance of a child. And, inexplicably, a nerdy wolf expert is brought in to search for the child.
It would seem like there would be literally hundreds of more qualified people for this job but for some reason this story wants Jeffrey Wright of “Westworld” fame to be its main protagonist. When he arrives in Alaska he meets the mother of the missing child, and their interactions are bizarre to say the least..
She seems to be in a daze, not from shock or grief but rather some mild insanity. Her husband (Alexander Skarsgard) is serving in Iraq, but he returns home following a near fatal bullet wound. By the time he arrives back in Alaska we learn his wife killed their son, not the wolves.
She vanishes, with her husband in pursuit. This is when the film stops making sense.
It’s hard to explain what happens next because nothing is logically connected. A lot of cops die in a massive gun battle. A key character kills some people. Wright’s character gets very sick but doesn’t have to stay bed ridden like he does.
“Hold the Dark” delivers a stark set up but doesn’t go anywhere.
Director Jeremy Saulnier’s last effort, “Green Room,” stands as one of the 21st century’s best films. That film was bold, terrifying and original.
It also has the distinction of being the only film I’ve come across to properly characterize Nazism as “Ultra Leftist.”
So what happened to “Hold the Dark”?
Well, the auteur theory is false, as are most ideas originating in France. Myriad factors might be at play in a cinematic failure.
And it may be that Netflix’s Laissez Faire attitude towards filmmakers is not always the best approach. But Saulnier wasn’t exactly beholden to a major studio up until now. His films have been produced by small companies and distributed by A24. So Netflix’s free range lobster method probably isn’t to blame.
The problem is the script.
There’s really no story here, and none of the characters act logically. A character doesn’t need to make objective sense. Virtually no one watches “The Silence of the Lambs” and thinks that Lecter is believable.
Hopkins brilliant performance combined with clever writing make a cartoonish idea come to “super serial” life (word play and “South Park” Al Gore reference intended). Characters only need to be believable when the lights go down. When they come back up we can wonder how the joker was able to move all those oil cans around without anybody (least of all the worlds’ greatest detective) not noticing.
Each tedious step in “Hold the Dark” seems arbitrary.
I haven’t read the book “Hold the Dark” is based upon, so maybe there is a richness behind all this. It still didn’t translate to the screen.
The film is beautifully shot and mostly well acted, but there’s just nothing happening. The viewer is tricked into watching more, thinking something special awaits. It slowly sinks in that all the promises the visuals make are actually lies.