Horror Review: Hold the Dark (dir. by Jeremy Saulnier)


Hold the Dark

Jeremy Saulnier, writer and director of Blue Ruin and Green Room, invites the brave and the curious to experience his latest creation steeped in the dark, foreboding Alaskan wilderness with a hint of the supernatural and folklore mysticism.

One could never accuse Saulnier of being timid when it comes to on-screen violence. While there’s countless other filmmakers who can and have put on the screen much more dynamic and violent sequences, Saulnier is more of the Peckinpah school of film violence instead of the Michael Bay. His films portray violence at its most unglamorous. His study of the sort of violent means man can inflict on another man are neither titillating or exploitative.

He sees man’s tendency towards violence as primal and something inherent in every man with the veneer of civilization the only thing holding it back. Man, in how Saulnier sees him, is not a civilized species but one playing at one and who feels more at home practicing such violent means.

Whether it’s as an itinerant caught up in an old school blood feud or a hardcore punk band fighting to stay alive against some Northwest backswood Neo-nazi skinheads. They all dig down deep to find that inner primal self that revels in the bloodletting even when they try to hold on to that small slice of civilized behavior they’ve been taught was necessary to survive.

With Hold the Dark, Jeremy Saulnier veers away from the much more straightforward narrative of his last two films and more like an ambiguous campfire tale that may seem obtuse for some. The very ambiguous nature of the plot will definitely confound some viewers who prefer their thrillers to be easy to follow with well-defined roles of protagonist and antagonist. While Hold the Dark veers from that very linear narrative focus of Saulnier’s last two films, it does share those films study of the blurred lines of who is good and who is bad.

The film starts off with retired naturalist Russell Core (played by Jeffrey Wright) being summoned by grieving mother Medora Slone living in a remote village in the northern reaches of Alaska. She’s just lost her young son to what she says are a pack of wolves who have also taken two other children prior to her own. She knows that he is also a wolf expert and has hunted and put down wolves in his past. She wants the animals who killed her son found and killed in order to have an answer and closure for her husband who is currently deployed in Iraq.

From the moment Russell arrives in Medora’s village of Keelut, Alaska the film slowly,  but surely moves from being a man-vs-nature story to something that’s more a dark fairytale whose ending will definitely not be happily ever after. This is where Hold the Dark will either grab a viewer and tell them to just hold on and experience the violent, albeit sometimes confusing, happenings in this grim and dark corner of the world or they will fail to hold on and remain confused to what’s transpiring. Wanting to know whats going on in concrete, by-the-numbers facts and story beats.

Like Saulnier’s previous two films, Hold the Dark doesn’t shy away from showing how brutal man can be when it comes to inflicting pain and damage on another human being. The violence comes sudden, brutal and horrifically efficient in how a body can fall apart.

The screenplay, this time written solely by fellow collaborator Macon Blair, does bring some very interesting questions as to whether violence (or darkness) is inherent in man that is held at bay by the “light” of civilization or is it something that is learned, picked up like disease and passed on from generation to generation. Is violence a natural cycle that is just part of what makes humanity human or is it one that can be broken and left behind and cured of. These are some questions that sometimes has no easy answer and that lends the film’s obtuseness that may frustrate some viewers. Yet, it’s the film’s very ambiguousness that allows the viewer to marinate on the questions and ideas proposed. Whether there’s an answer to these questions will be up to the viewer.

Where the film’s story may frustate, the performances by the cast is excellent from start to finish. Whether it’s Jeffrey Wright’s Russel Core who is the stand-in for the viewer and one who also shares some of the viewers befuddlement at the situation he has found himself in but unable to break free from. Then there are Riley Keough and Alexander Skarsgard playing the Slone’s. One the grieving mother and the other the husband away at war whose reaction to news of his son’s death pushes the film’s narrative from a whodunit and straight into horror territory (some would say slasher film trope with creepy mask included).

Hold the Dark may not be a straight progression from what Jeremy Saulnier has done before with Blue Ruin and Green Room, but it is one that shares similar themes and ideas. It’s a film that allows for Saulnier to dabble in the more esoteric but nonetheless still keep his signature style as an auteur of raw, primal violence. There’s nothing light or hopeful in this latest dark fairytale from Jeremy Saulnier, but then again fairytales were never happy and hopeful to begin with, but tales to try and explain the encroaching darkness and something to help one hold it at bay.

Weekly Trailer Round-Up: Hold the Dark, Ben is Back, King Lear, I Think We’re Alone Now


We’ve already shared two of this week’s biggest trailers, Suspiria and The Outlaw King.

Here’s the best of the rest:

Director Jeremy Saulnier’s latest film, Hold The Dark, will come to Netflix on September 28th and it looks like it will be another tough and uncompromising film from the director of Blue Ruin and Green Room.

In Ben Is Back, Lucas Hedges plays Ben, who returns home on Christmas Eve and brings trouble with him.  Julia Roberts plays his mother.  This film is set for a December 7th release.

Every great Shakespearean actor eventually gets to play King Lear.  Anthony Hopkins did so in this BBC production.  This version transports Shakespeare’s tragedy to an alternative version of modern-day London and it will premiere on Amazon Prime on September 28th.

In I Think We’re Alone Now, Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning might be the last two people on Earth.  Find out on September 14th.

 

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Green Room (dir by Jeremy Saulnier)


greenroom5

Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room is one of the best films of the year but I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to bring myself to watch it a second time.

Why?

There’s two reasons:

Number one, Green Room is one of the most intense films that I’ve ever seen.  Much like Saulnier’s previous film, Blue Ruin, this is a violent movie that never makes violence look fun.  The violence here is all too real and the pain that the characters feel is all too real as well.  I watched a good deal of Green Room through my fingers, hiding my face behind my hands.  Seriously, I’ve seen some pretty gory movies.  (I’m an unapologetic fan of Italian horror, after all.)  But Green Room still left me shaken.  Occasionally, it even left me gasping for breath.  It’s just that intense.  It’s a film about four people battling for survival and I’m surprised (and a little proud) that I survived all the way to the end.

The other reason is that the film stars Anton Yelchin.  It was one of the final films that he made before his death and he gives such a likable and committed performance that it’s impossible for me to think about the film without getting a little emotional.  Far more than his supporting work in the Star Trek films, Green Room showcased what a good actor Anton Yelchin truly was.  It’s impossible for me to think about Green Room without mourning a talent taken from us far too soon.  And though it might be difficult to watch the film a second time, everyone should watch Green Room at least once.  If you ever wonder why some of us still get emotional when we talk about Anton Yelchin, it’s all there in the movie.

In Green Room, Yelchin plays Pat.  Pat is the bass player for a punk band called the Ain’t Rights.  The Ain’t Rights have been touring the northern part of the country.  It’s a low-budget tour, one that perfectly reflects that anti-corporate politics of the Ain’t Rights.  For them, the tour means crashing with friends, siphoning gasoline, and doing interviews with underground radio stations.  In fact, one interviewer — the rather dorky Tad (David W. Thompson) — arranges for them to do a show at an isolated bar in Oregon.  Tad tells them that the bar attracts a rough crowd but that they’ll be okay because his cousin Daniel (Blue Ruin‘s Macon Blair) works there.

The Ain’t Rights arrive and discover that the club appears to have a clientele that is exclusively made up of Neo-Nazi skinheads.  After some hesitation, the Ain’t Rights take the stage and, for a few brief moments, Saulnier shows them performing in slow motion and those of us in the film’s audience — even someone like me, who would probably otherwise never listen to a band like the Ain’t Rights — are briefly caught up in the joy and excitement of their performance.

Unfortunately, while the band is performing, the Nazis are busy murdering a woman in the green room.  And, after the band walks in on the aftermath of the murder, they soon find themselves marked for death as well.  The band is smart enough to lock themselves in the green room and to take one of the Nazis as a hostage.  However, they know that they can’t stay in that room forever.  At some point, they’re going to have to figure out how to escape from the bar…

Green Room is a harrowing and violent film, one that maintains an almost feverish intensity from start to end.  Making it all the more difficult to watch is that Saulnier keeps the horror rooted in reality.  The Neo-Nazis never turn into cardboard movie slashers.  Instead, they are a very real and disturbing threat.  (It’s interesting to note that occasionally, a Neo-Nazis will express some doubt about killing the band but none of them have the courage to actually refuse any of the orders that they receive.  We often hear that people need to respect authority.  Well, Green Room shows what happens when people blindly respect authority to the extent that they can no longer think for themselves.)  Though the film may be violent, it never celebrates that violence and when one character does get a chunk of arm chopped off, it’s literally one of the most painful images to ever be captured on film.  You like every member of the band so, when they get hurt, you feel their pain as well.  Though Yelchin may be the main character, the other members of the Ain’t Rights — played by Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner — all make a good impression as well.  You want them all to escape and dread the realization that not all of them will.

As for the owner of the club, his name is Darcy and he’s played by Patrick Stewart.  At first, it may sound like stunt casting.  Patrick Stewart as a Neo-Nazi?  But interestingly enough, Darcy doesn’t really seem to care about ideology.  Instead, you get the feeling that he realized that there was money to be made by catering to racists so that’s what he decided to do.  When he barks out orders and demands that the members of the band be killed, his main motivation seems to be pure greed.  If the band escapes and reports the murder, he’ll lose his club.  Stewart gives a chilling performance.  When he first appears, you do think, “Hey, it’s Patrick Stewart!”  But, within minutes, you forget who is playing him.  He becomes Darcy and you’re scared to death of him and his followers.

Green Room is an incredibly intense and scary film.  It also features perhaps the best performance of Anton Yelchin’s career.  Green Room stands as a testament to a talent taken too early.

(On a purely personal note: I’m glad that Green Room took place in Oregon.  Too often, movies tend to portray racism as being an exclusively Southern issue, one that somehow magically disappears once you head up north.  It often feels as if people spend so much time talking about racism in other states that they fail to actually look at what’s happening in their own backyard.  It’s easier to laugh at a state like Alabama than to ask why someone like Eric Garner died on the streets of New York City.  Racism is an American issue, and that includes the states both below and above the Mason-Dixon line.)

patrick-stewart

Prepare To Cringe Your Way Through The Red Band Trailer For Green Room!


OH MY GOD!

So, here’s the thing: there is an intense moment towards the end of the just released red band trailer for Green Room that is literally bone snapping.  I saw it, I heard it, and I literally threw my hands over my eyes and went, “Agck!”

Green Room is about a punk band who finds themselves fighting for their lives against Patrick Stewart and a bunch of Neo-Nazis.  The red band trailer (which you can watch below) is seriously intense!  Now I have to admit that I’ve reached a point of exhaustion when it comes to film violence but I’m still going to see Green Room because it was directed by Jeremy Saulnier, who previously directed the brilliant (and unapologetically violent) Blue Ruin.  Saulnier’s involvement promises that, at the very least, Green Room will be a hundred times better than Kevin Smith’s Red State.

Anyway, here’s the trailer!

 

Here Are The Chicago Film Critics Association Nominations!


Happy Valentine's Day!

Finally, from the former hometown of Al Capone and President Obama, here are the Chicago Film Critic Associations Nominations!

BEST PICTURE
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Under the Skin
Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Christopher Nolan, Interstellar

BEST ACTOR
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton, Birdman
David Oyelowo, Selma
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Scarlett Johannson, Under the Skin
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Laura Dern, Wild
Agata Kulesza, Ida
Emma Stone, Birdman

BEST ORIGNAL SCREENPLAY
Birdman, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo
Boyhood, Richard Linklater
Calvary, John Michael McDonagh
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson
Whiplash, Damien Chazelle

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
The Imitation Game, Graham Moore
Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson
Under the Skin, Walter Campbell
Wild, Nick Hornby

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
Force Majeure
Ida
Mommy
The Raid 2
Two Days, One Night

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Citizenfour
Jodorowsky’s Dune
Last Days in Vietnam
Life Itself
The Overnighters

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Lego Movie
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

BEST ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Interstellar
Into The Woods
Only Lovers Left Alive
Snowpiercer

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ida
Inherent Vice
Interstellar

BEST EDITING
Birdman
Boyhood
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Whiplash

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Under the Skin

MOST PROMISING PERFORMER
Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle/Beyond the Lights
Jack O’Connell, Starred Up/Unbroken
Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jenny Slate, Obvious Child
Agata Trzebuchowska, Ida

MOST PROMISING FILMMAKER
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
Jennifer Kent, The Babadook
Jeremy Saulnier, Blue Ruin
Justin Simien, Dear White People

Embracing the Melodrama #60: Blue Ruin (dir by Jeremy Saulnier)


Blue Ruin

Well, all good things must come to an end and here it is.  This is the final entry in a little series that I like to call Embracing the Melodrama.  For the past two weeks, I’ve been reviewing, in chronological order, 60 of the most and least memorable melodramas ever filmed.  We’ve looked at everything from films that were nominated for (and occasionally won) Oscars to films that played in a few grindhouses and drive-ins before disappearing into obscurity.  We’ve reviewed big budget spectaculars and movies that were apparently filmed for less money than I typically spend during a weekend shopping spree.  I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading these reviews as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.  If I’ve introduced you to a film you previously did not know or if I’ve inspired you to track down and watch an old classic, then I’ve accomplished what I set out to do and I’m happy.  We started this series by looking at a film from 1916 and now, we end it with a movie that was released into theaters just a few months ago.

That film is Blue Ruin and, if you haven’t seen it yet, you really should.

Now, I want to be careful just how much I tell you about Blue Ruin‘s story because, much like the thematically similar Cold In July, Blue Ruin may start out like a standard thriller but it soon moves in unexpected and surprising directions.  It’s not so much that the film’s plot is unpredictable (in fact, one of the film’s strengths is that the story told is essentially a simple one) as much as it’s the fact that the film adds an element of ambiguity to that plot that forces you to reconsider all of your preconceived notions.  Blue Ruin is a revenge film for people who like to think.

Blue Ruin opens with the bearded and clearly unstable Dwight (Macon Blair) going through trash cans and dumpsters in search of food.  Dwight lives in his filthy car and it quickly becomes obvious that, despite Dwight’s disheveled appearance, he’s not really much of a threat to anyone.  Instead, he simply wants to be left alone.  However, one day, Dwight is approached by a friendly police officer who tells him that a man named Wade Cleland has been replaced from prison.  The suddenly motivated Dwight responds by driving his car to the prison and watching as Wade is released.  Dwight than manages to get a knife (after first trying to steal a gun and failing so completely that you can’t help but feel sorry for him) and goes to the small country bar where Wade and his family are celebrating his freedom.  Dwight manages to get into the club and, after a brutal fight, fatally stabs Wade in the temple.

Macon Blair in Blue Ruin

Macon Blair in Blue Ruin

The rest of the film deals with both the reasons behind and the consequences of Dwight’s actions and it would not be right for me to spoil the film any more than I already have.  Let’s just say that neither Dwight nor the Clelands turn out to be quite who we believed them to be.  The crimes of the past aren’t quite as clear-cut as either Dwight or the Clelands initially assumed.  All that is clear is that now that Dwight has taken his revenge, the Clelands now feel the need to take their own revenge.  It’s an endless cycle that’s made all the more complicated by the fact that neither Dwight nor the Clelands are as good at this whole revenge thing as they think.

Chances are that you’ve never heard of Macon Blair.  I hadn’t heard of him until I saw him in this movie.  But, obscure or not, that doesn’t change the fact that, in the role of Dwight, Macon Blair gives one of the best performances of the year so far.  He turns Dwight into a sort of mentally unstable everyman and, as a result, Dwight is a truly memorable and unexpectedly poignant lead character.

It’s interesting that 2014 has seen the release of several films that feature unlikely and morally ambiguous protagonists dealing with violence, revenge, and secrets in the South.  Blue Ruin joins Cold In July and Joe as one of the best films of 2014.  And it also provides a high note for which to close out Embracing the Melodrama.

Blue Ruin 2

Arleigh’s Top 9 Films of 2014 (Front End)


We’re now past the halfway point for the film season of 2014. The year has seen it’s share of hits, bombs and surprises. Many look at the box-office numbers some that these films generate as a sign of their success. Others look at how the critics-at-large have graded these films as a way to determine whether they’ve been successful.

I know some people would list nothing but independent arthouse films as their best. They look at genre and big-budget films as not being worthy of being the best of the year, so far. It’s that sort of thinking that limits one’s appreciation of film, in general.

Does having a 150 million dollar budget mean that a film cannot be one of the best of the year. Past history will suggest that’s not the case. Yet, there are cinephiles out there who will dismiss such films because they consider it as being too Hollywood. The same goes for people who look down upon genre films like horror, scifi, westerns and many others that do not fit their slice-of-life drama study. They’re not existential enough for some.

I’ve come to look at all the films I’ve been fortunate enough to see through the first six months of 2014 and picked 9 of the best (I picked a random odd number since Lisa Marie already does the even numbers thing) no matter their genre, type of film and budget. I’ve picked a couple of scifi films, a documentary, an action-packed blockbuster sequel, a wonderfully made 3-D animated film (itself a sequel), a neo-noir Western, a brutal crime-thriller, an indie horror-thriller and one of the best comedies of the last couple years.

In no special order….

noah-banner222Noah (dir. by Darren Aronofsky)

capawsmovarthc-cvr-a91f8Captain America: The Winter Soldier (dir. by Anthony and Joe Russo)

cold_in_july_ver2_xlgCold in July (dir. by Jim Mickle)

HTTYD2How To Train Your Dragon 2 (dir. by Dean DuBois)

JodorowskysDuneJodorowsky’s Dune (dir. by Frank Pavich)

the-raid-2-berandal01The Raid 2: Berandal (dir. by Gareth Evans)

Snowpiercer (dir. by Bong Joon-ho)

GrandPianoGrand Piano (dir. by Eugenio Mira)

22JumpStreet22 Jump Street (dir. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)

My honorable mentions: All Cheerleaders Die, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Joe, Edge of Tomorrow, Lego: The Movie, Blue Ruin, Locke, Under the Skin, Only Lovers Left Alive, The Sacrament