I first met director Macon Blair and actor/writer Jeremy Saulnier about five years ago. It was on a shotgun shooting excursion as part of Fantastic Fest in Austin. They told me they were FilmDrunk readers, and that they had a movie playing at the festival. The movie was Blue Ruin, but I’m not sure that even registered at the time. We exchanged pleasantries and small talk and I kind of forgot about it, as one does with most movies people mention at film festivals, which tend to blur together pretty quickly. And then I actually saw Blue Ruin. Oops. I probably should’ve paid more attention to those guys.
They returned in 2015 with Green Room, with Saulnier again writing and directing and Blair playing a neo-Nazi functionary, a movie which, if anything, doubled down on the action, tension, and gore of Blue Ruin. Though his movies aren’t splatter flicks, Saulnier seems to find ways to incorporate gore into all of them, which he shoots matter of factly but with obvious relish, such that it manages to be both compelling and horrifying.
This year they’re back with Netflix’s Hold The Dark, which Blair adapted from the William Gilardi novel and Saulnier directed. It’s a noticeable step up in terms of both budget and sophistication, not to mention not having to originate all their own material. It’s also a bit of a departure. Hold The Dark, with an incredible cast that includes Jeffrey Wright, Riley Keough, and Alexander Skarsgard, retains all the unapologetic brutality of Blue Ruin and Green Room, but it’s also probably the first Saulnier movie that could be described as “moody.” The resolution isn’t as clear or cathartic this time around, which feels true to the genre, if you think of Hold The Dark as essentially a southern gothic set in Alaska (which I do).
It’s dark and violent, but also a little inscrutable. It’s not going to be for those who require an explanation. Though it’s still perfect for those who love ownage.
Hold The Dark premiered on Netflix, where Blair set up his own directorial debut, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore. Which is fun as a critic, because for once it feels like we can discuss a Saulnier/Blair right after the premiere, rather than having to wait for a platform release to slooowly make its way across the country and into the public consciousness. It’s a bit depressing writing things that you know half the audience isn’t going to read for four months.
So Netflix, in most ways, is great for me. But I do wonder if it’s helping to make Blair and Saulnier household names (which they probably deserve to be at this point) or if it’s just building a different kind of niche, parallel to the Festival niche they’ve previously inhabited.
I spoke to them last week at Fantastic Fest.