Expectations are an awful thing. I have seen and enjoyed every previous feature film Jeremy Saulnier has made. At some point I was going to see one I didn’t like. I’m not saying I didn’t like this, exactly, but I’m definitely struggling with it in ways I didn’t struggle with his previous two movies, and I don’t remember struggling with the debut. (By the way, it’s as if nobody knows Murder Party exists, even though you can watch it on Netflix now. They didn’t mention it at the screening and a guy was talking to insisted Hold the Dark is Saulnier’s third film – it’s his fourth.)
This is the first film that Saulnier has made that wasn’t from an original script so some of the elements in this film that strike me as different from his previous movies, and alien to them, likely come from the novel this is based on. And I wonder if something got lost in translation as it feels as though the mysticism in this film hasn’t fully been explained.
So I have two big issues with the film; the first is an issue with credulity or suspension of disbelief and the second concerns the above mysticism.
So, first, let’s get to my inability to suspend my disbelief after a time. At one point, a character opens fire on police officers. He kills a lot of them. This scene goes on forever. But my problem isn’t so much with the length of the scene but rather with the motivations of the man doing the killing – it’s hard to believe he’s willing to kill this many people – and the results of the killing, particularly that after this happens, another police officer is just allowed to go off into the bush without backup. (As I’m writing this, I realize that this particular scene echoes a previous scene in the movie, which is likely meant as a comment on the perpetual war the US is engaged in. But it took me hours to come up with it, which tells you about how well the point was articulated.)
The other issue I have is with the mysticism of this film, which is only sort of hinted at here and there and never really fully explained. On the one hand, I appreciate that as I hate when someone – usually a black janitor in a horror movie – tells the characters what’s happening. But here it feels like there’s so little of it we’re left guessing. Here’s my guess:
I think that is film has a similar theme to No Country for Old Men, with the idea that true evil is incomprehensible. In No Country of Old Men dreams – and probably religion, given who wrote it – help us make sense of it, to an extent. Here it’s mythology. The evil here – SPOILERS!!!!!! – is that a brother and sister, already messed up, have a child together and one of them kills it and other children as some kind of attempt to solve the problem, rather than the unstoppable killing machine of No Country for Old Men. I am wondering whether they’re supposed to be the end of a long line of inbred people, but that was something else that was missing, I think.
I am flipping back and forth between a 6 and a 7. On the one hand, I think it was too heavy handed in its violence and too obscure in its mysticism. On the other hand, I can’t say there weren’t some great, tense moments as well as some levity, as you would expect based on their previous film.
I don’t know. I’m disappointed but maybe my expectations were too damn high.