Virginian indie talent Jeremy Saulnier’s grisly thrillers (Blue Ruin, Green Room) grow in scale and budget, but lose none of their darkness. And that’s literally the case for his fourth feature as director (and first for Netflix), which is set in Alaska during the winter months.
The lack of light suits Saulnier and actor/screenwriter Macon Blair, and is all the better to cloak what’s actually happening. Jeffrey Wright is the retired naturalist called in by Riley Keough’s army wife to a remote, snowbound village after her six-year-old is taken by wolves.
While the laconic expert tracks the wolfpack, hair-trigger hubby Alexander Skarsgard returns from Iraq and a parallel hunt ensues. Despite the best efforts of decent police chief James Badge Dale, Wright finds himself at the centre of age-old internecine grudges between the villagers and law enforcement.
Saulnier excels at tense human interaction and corporeal, often crossbow-inflicted violence, and stages a mind-blowing, extended set piece that provides a premature climax. In its aftermath, a ritualistic demonic element never quite gels. The director has made conflict in rural American outposts his own, but needs to perhaps turn on the lights at some point.