A missing boy in Alaska brings wolf hunters and the boy's soldier father back home in search of him.
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Starring Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgard, and Riley Keough
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
Jeremy Saulnier makes ugly films. Both Blue Ruin and Green Room are gritty and violent exercises that dispatch their characters at random, mid-sentence, with minimal dignity. They provide an anti-cinematic view of brutality, far away from the John Wicks and Ethan Hunts of the world. What keeps Saulnier’s earlier films from being oppressive is how quickly they move. A scene that culminates in a hacked forearm is onto the next thing, keeping tension on the viewer and preventing them from having their noses rubbed in what is some of modern cinema’s most repulsive violence. This is not the case with Hold the Dark, Saulnier’s third film and the first one he hasn’t written, instead relying on an adapted script from frequent collaborator Macon Blair. The tone of Hold the Dark, introspective and bleak and full of whispered portent, runs counter to what has served Saulnier thus far in his burgeoning career. It’s admirable for a director to try something new, but Hold the Dark is a risk that wasn’t worth taking.
It’s an easy and somewhat lazy impulse to lament humanity. I do it all the time in spite of myself. It doesn’t require much to read a news article or watch a pessimistic film and resign oneself to eventual extinction, as opposed to the much harder work of actually talking to people or even working to improve our oft-dire state. That’s my introversion talking, a trait that I doubt dominates the teaching profession, but it’s not like extroversion is keeping The Kindergarten Teacher’s protagonist from feeling cynical. In Sara Colangelo’s American adaptation of an Israeli film, a culturally-hungry woman finds genius in a place she does not expect to find it, and, feeling trapped by her family and her own lack of insight, blows her life up to be close to a true prodigy. The film does a great job in portraying an obsessive self-regard that clouds out consequential thinking, even as it does a lesser job portraying the object of the obsession.
Kevin Smith’s an acquired taste and for all intents and purposes, seems to be a charming and introspective guy. Coming onto the cinematic scene at the same time as other hyper-loquacious indie directors like Richard Linklater and Quentin Tarantino, he spent his first ten years churning out interconnected comedies that were by turns filthy and eloquent. He also might be a prime example of the truism that a person spends their whole life creating their first thing, and then struggles to replicate it thereafter. Smith’s debut, Clerks, is great, and everything else has lived in its micro-budget shadow. This is especially true with Tusk. The last decade of Smith’s career has found him trying to break away from raunch and into genre with cop buddy comedies and cult shootouts, and Tusk is his largely unsuccessful body horror attempt.
S. Craig Zahler continues his efforts to bring exploitation films back from the 70’s with Brawl in Cell Block 99, a sickeningly violent prison flick and follow-up to the equally queasy Bone Tomahawk. I’m not terribly familiar with exploitation cinema, but like pornography, one just knows it when they see it. They feature extreme human behavior, prefer cool and reject beauty or elegance, have stylized dialogue, and fashion antagonists from pure evil. Tarantino does a more refined version of this, having been raised on exploitation films. The Tipper Gore-esque knock on early Tarantino was that he’s overly violent, an inaccurate accusation in at least his first three films. Tarantino pans away from ears getting chopped off, but no one could say the same of Zahler. He stares violence in the face, taking in every compound fracture and bone crunch. The result is a nigh-unrecommendable film, his second in a row. The sick feeling in one’s stomach after the credits isn’t necessarily something I want other people to experience.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.