HOLD THE DARK (2018)

Review by LL Soares

Director Jeremy Saulnier kicks ass!

His first feature film, MURDER PARTY (2007), about a guy who answers a flyer for a party where the other guests plan to kill him, was flawed but good. Then his amazing next features, BLUE RUIN (2013) and GREEN ROOM (2015) showed that he was definitely a director to watch. Needless to say, I was very excited to see his newest film, HOLD THE DARK (2018), from the first time I heard about it.

Currently streaming on Netflix, HOLD THE DARK gives us Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright of the HBO shows BOARDWALK EMPIRE and WESTWORLD), a writer who shows up in the Alaskan village of Keelut, in the middle of nowhere, at the request of Medora Slone (Riley Keough), whose son, Bailey (Beckham Crawford, shown in flashbacks) has gone missing. Core is a naturalist and wrote a book about tracking down wolves previously, after they abducted a child. Medora says that the same thing happened to her, and she wants something to show her husband when he gets back from his tour of duty in Afghanistan. Core agrees to help her by tracking down the wolves that killed/took her son, with the intention of killing them in turn.

Bailey is the third child in the area to go missing. The second child was taken from Cheeon (Julian Black), who is a friend of Medora’s husband.

While he sleeps on the couch, Medora walks around late at night naked, wearing a wolf mask.

When he gets back from tracking down the wolves, Core finds Medora gone, and more evidence of what happened to her son. Meanwhile, her husband, Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard) is on his way home after getting injured in a gun battle. When he finds out about his son, he goes on a rampage. Meanwhile, Core helps the local police chief, Donald Marium (James Badge Dale), with his investigation of both what happened to Bailey, and what Vernon will do next.

This is the kind of movie where nothing is as it seems, and everyone has their own motivations for doing things. Russell Core is just caught up in the middle of it all, including one man’s violent retribution. I don’t want to give away too much more of the plot.

Watching HOLD THE DARK, I couldn’t help but notice that Saulnier has grown as a director. He’s got a bigger canvas here than he had in past films, and he uses it well. The cast is top-notch, especially Wright, who always turns in a stunning performance, as the world-weary Russell Core – he’s pretty much the heart of the movie; Keough as the enigmatic Medora (who isn’t in the movie a lot, but leaves an indelible mark on things); Skarsgard – always a go-to guy for intense and menacing roles – as the ruthless and often homicidal Vernon; and James Badge Dale as Police Chief Marium. Saulnier’s frequent collaborator, Macon Blair, who has appeared in his other films (and was the star of BLUE RUIN), also shines in a brief role as Shan, a friend of Vernon’s who patches him up after he gets a gunshot wound. Blair also wrote the screenplay for HOLD THE DARK, based on a novel by William Giraldi.

Jeremy Saulnier’s next project is directing some episodes for the third season of the HBO series TRUE DETECTIVE.

HOLD THE DARK does a good job incorporating the cold, lonely landscape of Alaskan villages into the storyline. There’s a cave with hot springs that also plays a major part in the story. I’m also a huge fan of masks, and the wolf mask worn by Medora, and another one worn later by Vernon, add to the mood of the film. All in all, this is a powerful movie that deserves to be sought out. I give it three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives HOLD THE DARK ~ 3 1/2 knives!

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MANDY (2018)

Review by LL Soares

MANDY (2018) has just come to theaters after a very positive run in film festivals. It’s also available for rental on streaming services such as Amazon and Youtube, as well as iTunes, where you can buy it. What you think of the movie may be affected by what you think of lead actor Nicolas Cage. But this is the most-buzzed about movie he’s made in years, a grindhouse-worthy, gory revenge thriller by director Panos Cosmatos, who previously made the surreal masterpiece BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010), with a screenplay by Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn.

Lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) works hard in what looks like the forests of the American northwest. He works hard, then comes home to his signifcant other, Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough), who is an artist. They live in a little house in the middle of a forest, and pretty much keep to themselves. Sometimes Red wonders if they should move somewhere else, but Mandy likes it there.

One day, a van drives past Mandy on a rural road. Inside are cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roche) and his “flock,” who have dubbed themselves The Children of the Dawn. The group includes Brother Swan (Ned Dennehy), who drives and is Jeremiah’s right hand man; Mother Marlene (Olwen Fouere) who appears to be the woman who has been with Jeremiah the longest; Sister Lucy (Line Pillet), a younger woman who does what she can to please Jeremiah; and a few other men who aren’t as memorable.

Jeremiah is convinced that Mandy is special and that he must have her, even though he only glimpsed her from the car window. He demands that his people get her for him, so Brother Swan leads the way.

A group of them go out in the middle of the forest and blow something called the Horn of Abraxas. In response, some demonic-looking bikers come riding out of the woods, on jet-black motorcycles. The bikers lead the others to Mandy’s house, where she is abducted and Red is beaten.

When Mandy wakes up, she is put through an initiation of sorts and brought before her new master. But she refuses to be dominated. Instead, she laughs at Jeremiah, who then has her killed. Red, who is tied up behind the house with barbed wire, is forced to watch. Then the group of freaks heads out into the night.

Red gets free, mutliating himself in the process. He then decides to exact his vengeance. He goes to the trailer of a guy named Caruthers (Bill Duke) and gets a crossbow he had left with the man. Caruthers also gives him other weapons. Red also does some blacksmithing and forges a special one-of-a-kind battle axe. His first mission is to hunt down those maniac bikers.

We’re not sure if the bikers are human or not. They look otherworldly, like extras from the HELLRAISER movies. But Caruthers says that they’re just killers who were given a bad batch of LSD that drove them insane with pain. Either way, Red proves they’re mortal, using his weapons. But it’s not easy, and he’s further injured in the fights.

He then hunts down Jeremiah and his band of merry murderers, covered in blood and a little crazy himself.

At one point, Red comes across a man called The Chemist, played by Richard Brake (who was the best thing in Rob Zombie’s 31, 2016, where he played Doom-Head), who has a tiger and who goes into a trance to tell Red where Jeremiah has gone. I kind of wished the tiger had gone along with Red to assist him in his bloody tasks.

There are also some dream sequences, where Red dreams of Mandy, that are animated. This shouldn’t work, and could have looked very goofy, but somehow it does.

It seems that, online at least, the movie has been polarizing. Some people have complained that the pacing is slow, but I found the way the movie moved seemed just right, with enough gory punctuations to keep you engaged. Some people found Cage’s performance too over the top, but frankly, this is the kind of crazed performance people have come to expect from Nicolas Cage, and I think the movie works well with his particular brand of crazy. The rest of the cast is solid, including Ms. Riseborough as the titular Mandy, and especially Linus Roache as the evil Jeremiah. When we first see the cult leader, he reminded me totally of actor Richard Lynch, back when he appeared in movies like Larry Cohen’s GOD TOLD ME TO (1976); there’s the same strong sense of menace. Jeremiah has a vulnerable side too, but if he shows it to you, then he’ll have to kill you.

The movie leads up to the big final confrontation between the wronged husband and the vile sociopath who believes he is above the law. The results are predictable, but no less effective.

If you’re already of fan of Mr. Cage, then chances are that you’ll love this movie. The feel of the movie and the visuals, go very well with his intense performance. If you’re not a fan of his, then there may be a few scenes where you think he’s overdoing it, but even then, you may enjoy it, just because it’s so unusual and well-made. Mr. Cosmatos has a powerful style and a strong visual sense, that made this movie special for me.

I really loved this one, and I give it four knives.

(Also, keep an eye out for a scene where Red and Mandy watch a commercial on their television for a product called Cheddar Goblin. It’s a special laugh-out-loud moment, tucked inside all the intensity and gore.)

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives the movie MANDY ~ four knives.

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