Hold the Dark ★★★½

Jeremy Saulnier’s first film from a script he didn’t write himself (Macon Blair adapted William Giraldi’s 2014 novel) doesn’t have the white-knuckle thrills of Green Room, nor the existential claustrophobia of Blue Ruin. But Hold the Dark still fits with his running them of pursuit.

In this case, a wolf tracker (Jeffrey Wright) running from his own personal fears is tasked by a lonely mother (Riley Keough) with finding and killing the beasts that she claims took her son from their isolated Alaskan settlement. But all is not what it seems, and the plot thickens when the boy’s inscrutable father (Alexander Skarsgård) returns from a tour of Iraq to light the wick of a veritable powderkeg of violence.

Others have bemoaned this film’s absence of a proper protagonist. Where Blue Ruin had the traumatised Dwight, and Green Room the scared but resourceful Pat (Anton Yelchin), both people to empathise with and get behind to different degrees, Hold the Dark’s audience surrogate Russell gives cold comfort; as much as he tries to affect change in his predicament, ultimately he’s beholden to his environment, literally and figuratively.

The way that plays out can seem shaky and directionless on first appraisal. It’s particularly weak in the first act, with the kind of purple dialogue best left to student theatre. There’s also more than one character whose narrative arc is cut stone dead for no particular reason. But that might be the point.