Tag Archives: Jeremy Saulnier

Hold the Dark (2018) Review

Time: 125 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1]
Cast:
Jeffrey Wright as Russell Core
Alexander Skarsgård as Vernon Sloane
James Badge Dale as Donald Marium
Riley Keough as Medora Sloane
Julian Black Antelope as Cheeon
Macon Blair as Shan
Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Summoned to a remote Alaskan village to search for the wolves that killed three children, a wolf expert (Jeffrey Wright) soon finds himself unravelling a harrowing mystery.

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I recently watched through Jeremy Saulnier’s filmography, he seemed to be getting better with every film and having loved Green Room on rewatch, so I was looking forward to his next film Hold the Dark. It actually wasn’t quite what I was expecting but it really worked for me. It’s very ambitious, dark and haunting, with really great performances and as usual Jeremy Saulnier’s direction really was great.

This is a very different kind of movie for Jeremy Saulnier to be taking on. This is the first film that he’s directed that he hasn’t written, instead the script is written by longtime Jeremy Saulnier collaborator Macon Blair, and the script was really great. It’s based on a book of the same name written by William Giraldi, I don’t know how much the movie differs from the book since I never read it. The plot summary about Jeffrey Wright being hired by Riley Keough to hunt down the wolf who took her child is pretty much just the first act, it takes a very different path after that and I didn’t know this going in. In that it surprised me, and I recommend not going into this movie knowing too much about it. People who are expecting the guy who made Green Room to make a straight forward thriller based in a snowy environment are going to be taken aback at the complex story and the amount of thematic elements to it (the thematic elements I’ll let you find out for yourself). The story is dark, disturbing and haunting, and it just all really worked for me. Something that a lot of people will take issue with is that there are some unanswered questions, especially towards the end. It’s pretty ambiguous with how it ends and I myself am not quite sure about how I feel about it. With that said I didn’t dislike it and I was fine with it, but I can see a lot of people taking issue with it. Also if you’re not completely paying attention to what’s going on, it can be easy to miss some details of the movie. For example, I was paying attention to the movie quite a bit and there was a reveal involving Alexander Skarsgard and Riley Keough’s characters that I missed until hearing it from others after the movie, I don’t know if it was the movie or just me. Saulnier’s films are pretty self contained at around 90 minutes, but Hold the Dark is longer at around 2 hours long. This film takes place over a period of time in various different places, and as previously mentioned is much more complicated. That does mean that the pacing can slow down a little, and some of the tension can be reduced, but it still worked for the type of movie it was going for, and on the whole I was invested from start to finish.

Quite often with Jeremy Saulnier movies, the characters are a little underwritten, but Blair’s script actually gives the main players enough depth. Jeffrey Wright is one of the most underrated actors working together and it’s great watching him lead his own movie. He gives one of his best performances and seems to have a lot going on in his personal life. Unlike Saulnier’s other film protagonists, his character of Russell Core is competent enough for the task ahead of him, yet he still feels rather vulnerable in his situations. I do wish though that we got to know a little more about his character. Alexander Skarsgard is really great and haunting in his role, he’s unnerving when he’s on screen and was such a great screen presence. Riley Keough is also really good in her performance as the mother who hires Jeffrey Wright at the beginning of the movie, definitely deserving of a lot of praise. All the acting is quite great, James Badge Dale is good as a police chief and Macon Blair is also good in a smaller role.

Jeremy Saulnier’s direction is great as usual, Hold the Dark is a much more ambitious film and was on a much larger scale, and he was more than up for the challenge. It feels like it’s convincingly in this snowy and cold environment being rather isolated, it feels very much like Wind River. Saulnier as usual builds up a great atmosphere over the course of the movie, with so many scenes adding to the tension. There is a shootout sequence which is definitely one of the best filmed scenes of 2018. So incredibly tense, violent and captivating from start to finish. I think Hold the Dark might actually be worth watching for that scene alone. The score was done by Brooke and Will Blair, who also did the score to Green Room. Once again it’s really good, suitably chilling and haunting, just like the whole movie.

Hold the Dark is on Netflix and it’s really worth checking out, I know that it didn’t quite work for everyone, but it’s one of my favourite films of 2018. It’s a very affecting and gripping movie, with great writing and performances and fantastic direction. It may not answer all the questions that are posed earlier on, but it nonetheless was an effective movie, and one that I loved. It’s around about at the level of Green Room, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Jeremy Saulnier’s future work.

Blue Ruin (2014) Review

Time: 90 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Graphic violence & offensive language
Cast:
Macon Blair as Dwight Evans
Devin Ratray as Ben Gaffney
Amy Hargreaves as Sam Evans
Kevin Kolack as Teddy Cleland
Eve Plumb as Kris Cleland
Director: Jeremy Saulnier

A mysterious outsider’s (Macon Blair) quiet life is turned upside down when he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance. Proving himself an amateur assassin, he winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family.

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2007’s Murder Party was a decent first feature film from director Jeremy Saulnier, however it was Blue Ruin where he came into his own and started to get some notice as a director. I heard about Blue Ruin a long time ago while ago, I knew it was another thriller from Jeremy Saulnier, the director behind Green Room but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. After seeing it more recently I can say that it is a pretty good movie, although it’s not quite as good as Green Room.

One of the things that makes Blue Ruin unique is its take on a revenge film. Most revenge movies would have the protagonist being usually a Liam Neeson sort of character, with a particular set of skills. The character of Dwight in Blue Ruin however is far from capable at doing what he’s setting out to do. He does feel quite vulnerable, which raises the tension just a little more. Something that was surprising was the humour that was here, it was mostly dark and more to do with how Dwight is not at all suited for the job. It did help lighten up the otherwise bleak and sombre tone and mood throughout the film. I think it’s best not knowing too much about the movie going in, so I’ll try to keep my descriptions of the movie brief. The first third of the movie is slow but effective, building up to a satisfying climax in the end of that first third. The second third is really where the movie was lacking for me, it really slows down quite a bit. As a result, all of the tension is completely defused and you’re just sort of left waiting for things to happen and was all drawn out a little too much. The last third picks up a little bit however, and it ended in probably the only way it could’ve. The movie is 90 minutes long and I can’t imagine it being longer, it was probably the right length all things considered.

Really the most notable actor of all the cast of Blue Ruin is long-time Jeremy Saulnier collaborator Macon Blair as the lead character of Dwight, and he’s great. As I said, his character is more like a normal guy and is rather amateurish, not fit for violence or revenge at all, and he’s really convincing, really grounded. Much of the movie is relying on Blair and is just following him for the entire runtime and thankfully he pulls it off really well. Much of the movie doesn’t even have him necessarily saying a lot of dialogue, especially in the first act, and he conveys so much during these quiet moments. Other members of the cast are good in their roles but don’t really do enough to stand out, however Devin Ratray as Dwight’s friend Ben is also quite good in his screentime.

Jeremy Saulnier’s direction here has vastly improved over his direction in Murder House, and his work here is fantastic. The cinematography is beautiful looking and it’s Saulnier himself who did it, it really added a lot to the film. In the second act the tension is completely defused but otherwise, Saulnier made most of the movie feel really tense, especially in the first and third act. The violence is brutal, bloody and gritty but there’s not a lot of it, there’s probably like a few scenes of violence in the whole film. While I had problems with the lack of tension and all that in some of the movie, I appreciate the restraint by Saulnier not to just make it a bloodbath, because it would’ve be so easy to just fall into doing that.

Blue Ruin is maybe not as good as I’d hope it would be, the pacing is a little too slow and the second act is not on the same level as the rest of the movie. Outside of that, Blue Ruin gets a lot right, with some really tense moments, Macon Blair’s performance and most of all Jeremy Saulnier’s great direction. Definitely worth checking out sometime.

 

Murder Party (2007)

Time: 79 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1]
Cast:
Chris Sharp as Christopher S. Hawley
Sandy Barnett as Alexander
Macon Blair as Macon
Paul Goldblatt as Paul
William Lacey as Bill
Stacy Rock as Lexi
Skei Saulnier as Sky
Director: Jeremy Saulnier

On Halloween Eve in Brooklyn, an average Joe loser named Chris (Chris Sharp) finds an invitation to a costume party. Arriving at the “party”, Chris discovers he’s fallen prey to the lethal trap set by deranged artists. As the night wears on, rivalries within the group flare up. A body count accrues, and Chris must take advantage of the ensuing chaos if he’s to survive the night.

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I watched Green Room years ago, although I thought it was decent, I decided I was going to rewatch it. First of all though, I decided to go back and watch director Jeremy Saulnier’s prior films, then rewatch Green Room and then see his latest film, Hold the Dark. People really took notice of Jeremy Saulnier with his film before Green Room, Blue Ruin. However not many people know that 6 years before that, he directed his first movie Murder Party, a low budget horror comedy. Saulnier’s first feature film isn’t anywhere near the level of his following movies. Even on its own it doesn’t particularly stand out as a horror movie. However, it’s still pretty decent, and as a low budget horror comedy, it does work pretty well.

Murder Party is much more comedic compared to Saulnier’s later films. The whole part about the lead character being stuck in the murder party with deranged people starts like 10-15 minutes into the movie. However he’s just stuck there, while the ‘artists’ just sort of mess around, talk a lot and all that. Outside of the main plot, Murder Party also has a lot of satire on the art scene. Instead of it being a bunch of professional or serial killers carrying it out, it’s a bunch of crazy art people, which does make it stand apart from other similar movies. While Blue Ruin and Green Room might have moments of comedy (mostly dark comedy), the first half of Murder Party is really filled with comedy. Much of the dialogue (really between the antagonists) is really witty and comedic. The way the killers are written are a little too witty and comedic that you don’t really take them seriously, and this results in the first half not feeling tense at all, despite some of the things that happen. However I’m pretty sure this was deliberate, as in it wasn’t supposed to feel really scary and all that. The third act is when it actually starts becoming somewhat a horror/thriller. The main character stops being a background character and is in the forefront as he’s actually doing something. The pacing also picks up immensely. It’s a little more tense compared to the rest of the movie but you aren’t on the edge of your seat or anything. Murder Party is really short at an hour and 20 minutes and honestly that was probably the right length of the movie.

Chris Sharp is really the lead of the movie, who gets caught in this situation. We share a few scenes with him early on before he gets caught in the party but we don’t really learn much about him outside of him owning a cat and all that. He’s okay enough that we can hope that he gets out of the movie alive, but it’s in the obligatory way, in that people generally won’t want the main character to get killed. If anything we get to learn more about the killer characters, played by Macon Blair, Paul Goldblatt, William Lacey, Stacy Rock and Skei Saulnier, some of them are better than others, but they are good at being unstable artistic people who are crazy (though aren’t particularly scary, not that it was the goal). It is worth noting that Macon Blair would be appearing in Saulnier’s future films, and seemed to be in completely different roles every time.

It’s pretty clear watching Murder Party that this is Jeremy Saulnier’s first film. When you read the summary and knowing Saulnier was the guy who directed Green Room and then watching Murder Party, you might be a little let down. However it is worth noting that this was pretty much a student film. Chris Sharp, Macon Blair, Jeremy Saulnier and some of the cast of Murder Party filmed a lot of short movies together growing up. In the mid 2000s they started their first feature film together (this movie). Knowing that its an experimental film and also knowing the backstory of the movie,
it does make sense and it sort of works as that sort of movie. The cinematography (done by Saulnier) isn’t as great as his other movies but is simple and good enough that it works for the movie. The budget of the movie is around $200,000 and you can feel it, but they really make the most of that budget. The soundtrack isn’t really anything special, again feeling rather simple but it works well enough. There isn’t much violence and gore until like the last 25 minutes, and like Saulnier’s other films it is practical and brutal and all that. However the gore is much more of a B movie and bloody type rather than a brutally realistic and graphic sense.

Murder Party is by far the weakest of Jeremy Saulnier’s films, even judging it aside from the director’s other work, it’s not that great of a film and you do feel the low budget. So, I do think you should go into the movie as a low budget horror comedy, and as that, it is very impressive and reasonably entertaining. It is very rough around the edges and has some problems but it’s not bad for a first feature film. 6 years later though, Saulnier would really improve and fine tune his directing talent and would make much better movies starting with 2013’s Blue Ruin.

Green Room (2016) Review

Time: 95 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Graphic violence, drug use and offensive language
Cast:
Anton Yelchin as Pat
Alia Shawkat as Sam
Joe Cole as Reece
Callum Turner as Tiger
Imogen Poots as Amber
Patrick Stewart as Darcy Banker
Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Members (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat) of a punk rock band and a tough young woman (Imogen Poots) battle murderous white supremacists at a remote Oregon roadhouse.

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Green Room was a movie I heard a lot about, countless people were praising this movie. The premise had potential and it had a good cast with Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots and Patrick Stewart. It’s the first film by Jeremy Saulnier that I’ve seen, and from what I’ve heard he is a great director. Having seen Green Room, I can say that because of its excellent direction, it is a pretty solid movie overall. However I think I might be missing out on something, as aside from that aspect, this movie wasn’t that great to me.

Green Room’s plot isn’t really anything special. A group of protagonists are stuck in a room with the antagonists trying to break into that room and kill them. It has a very simple plot but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With that said, I must’ve been missing something on this movie because not a lot of it really connected with me. I just really wasn’t that interested in the movie, plot or characters to be perfectly honest. The characters are fine and do their jobs but they aren’t that interesting or engaging. I only really started somewhat engaging with the movie when the characters are put in the Green Room situation, and even then I wasn’t always paying that much attention. Not to say that this movie is boring because it wasn’t (aside from a lot of the first act), but I only really payed attention whenever it was an ‘action’ sequence, and considering this is a thriller, I feel like I should be more engaged in the movie throughout, even when nothing is happening. The writing isn’t bad, it’s just okay, it’s the writing of a typical above average thriller.

The characters really weren’t really that great or interesting but the acting in this movie is generally good. The main cast weren’t all on the same level, the best of them were Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots, those two were really good in their roles. Patrick Stewart plays the lead of the neo-nazi gang. He is good in the movie but he didn’t really leave as much of an impression as I thought he should. Stewart acts his role very well but I feel like he should’ve been presented as being more threatening than he actually ended up being because aside from him being played by Patrick Stewart, ultimately I barely remember his character.

While the plot and story didn’t really interest me that much, I will praise the direction by Jeremy Saulnier, it really is the reason to see this movie. The cinematography is excellent, every scene is framed greatly, this movie just looks perfect. I’d even go so far as to say that his direction is flawless. This film also doesn’t hold back, when it’s violent, it is really violent, and the intense scenes are very tense. So I have to give Saulnier a lot of praise, because his direction is what makes the movie work.

Green Room is okay, but it’s the fantastic direction that moves this movie from being okay to being decent. I didn’t love this movie like other people did, writing-wise this movie just didn’t connect with me that much, or interest me for that matter. Maybe a rewatch might change things but from the first watch, it was decent, that’s it. While Green Room wasn’t as great as I thought it would be, I think it’s worth a watch if you’re interested. The direction, as I said, was truly excellent, so if there’s anything that Green Room has done it has shown off Jeremy Saulnier’s talents, and it has interested me enough to check out his other movies.