Hold the Dark, director Jeremy Saulnier’s follow up to Blue Ruin and Green Room, drops the color-themed titles in favor of brightness — or rather the lack thereof. It is a film that is as bleak as its Alaskan wilderness setting. While Saulnier’s signature moments of thick tension and hyperviolence are still present, what is lost and sorely missed is the razor-like plot.
Saulnier seems to be aiming for a more arthouse take on some of his familiar motifs. It is an undoubtedly intriguing goal, but it’s as though he thought that by simply removing elements of the plot, the film would automatically become “artsy.” Instead, it becomes vaguer and, at times, genuinely confusing as to why things are happening the way they are. Worse, layers upon layers of visual metaphors are used to construct the plot in what ends up feeling like a mess of wet paper mache that hasn’t quite dried and taken shape yet.
The main actors all turn in solid performances though they feel underleveraged. Jeffrey Wright is the stoic, innocent outsider whose primary function seems to be to relate the evil human behavior on the screen to that of raw nature which his character is familiar with. Unfortunately, it never feels like he’s providing any unique insight into what’s happening that the audience can’t piece together on its own. Riley Keough is creepily intriguing but not given enough screen time to really explore the endless possibilities that description represents. Alexander Skarsgård is menacing but never strays from his robotic terminator mode. The best performance comes from James Badge Dale who seems like the only normal, relatable character in this entire film.
Hold the Dark is like a mashup of Wind River and True Detective. It is beautifully shot and has pieces of a story that deserves to be told in a much more coherent fashion. Like a puzzle in which someone has deliberately thrown away some of the pieces, you know what it is supposed to be, but you can’t quite see all of it as it should have been. It is a film with little depth that tries too hard to portray just how deep it thinks it is.